TIPS FOR HIRING A PROPERTY MANAGEMENT COMPANY
1 – Property Management Fees
While property management fees are important they must be viewed in light of what other firms are charging, the scope of services provided and the quality of those services. The company you hire will be stewarding one of your biggest assets and the last thing you want to do is make your decision based solely (or even primarily) on who charges the lowest fees.
A lower price may reflect either an acknowledgment they don’t provide top tier service, or an attempt to gain business by undercutting the competition. The problem with the latter is that it leads to slim margins for the firm which lowers the ceiling on the quantity and quality of service they can provide and still remain profitable. If a firm is under-pricing their services across the board it is possible they may try to make up for it by overloading their managers with as many properties as they can (or can’t) handle.
The truth is that price is one of the last things to consider. Not because it is the least important factor, but because you should only think about price, and actually hiring a PMC after you have determined that they will provide quality services tailored to your needs. What good are low fees if the management company does a poor job?
Other common mistakes are failure to identify all the potential fees for property management, as well as not making a true ‘apples-to-apples’ comparison of costs between property management companies. A lower management fee could easily be wiped out by a lot of expensive back-end charges and vice versa.
Remember that all fees are negotiable, so before you make your final decision, you should try negotiating the best rate possible from the firm whom you think would do the best job.
Ask prospective management firms about the following fees so that you fully answer the question “How much will property management cost?”
There is a significant difference between commercial vs residential property management fees but the average management fee ranges between 6-12% of monthly rent. For a single family home you might expect to pay 10% in rental property management fees. This fee will vary based on the number of properties you need managed, the number of units in each property, the location and condition of the property, and most importantly, what services are included for that fee. (Fees also vary market by market, i.e. San Francisco will differ from Los Angeles and Phoenix.) Other pricing models include flat fees, or a hybrid that sets both a percentage and a flat fee and asks you to pay whichever is lesser/greater. Find out if fees are billed or deducted directly from owner accounts.
This fee is for the time invested in setting-up a new account. It ranges from 0$-300$. Find out if the fee is per unit or per property, and if it makes a difference if the unit is occupied or not.
Leasing fees compensate the manager for the time, effort and cost associated with getting you a new tenant. While this fee is common, some owners are opposed to paying it, preferring that it be padded into the management fee so there is more incentive for the management company to find long term tenants.
In truth, a good management company views the management fee, NOT the leasing fee as the primary profit center. This is why leasing fees as a stand alone service (meaning without other property management services) are typically much higher (75-100% of first months rent). A transparent fee structure is laid out in such a way that high tenant turnover hurts, rather than rewards the management company. The only time this is not the case is when the fee is excessive, or there are significant vacancy fees. In the event that you are fortunate enough to have a long term tenant, you will benefit by not having to pay a leasing commission that is padded into the monthly management fee.
Good questions to ask:
1. How much is the leasing fee? This ranges from 25% to 100% of the first months rent, but 50% is pretty standard. Instead of charging a percentage, some firms charge a flat fee or a percentage of the gross amount for which the lease is written.
2. Does their leasing fee decrease or get waived if it takes them an unreasonably long time to find a tenant?
3. Is the leasing fee structured in a way that provides the firm incentive to bring in reliable tenants? This usually either means a full or partial refund (sometimes pro-rated) in the event that the tenant is evicted, or breaks their lease within 12 months of the original move in date. Some firms have a policy of only charging this fee once per 12 months per unit which has the same affect.
4. Do they use leasing agents? If so, what will you have to pay them in the event they find you a tenant?
5. Do they require exclusivity in advertising, or can you advertise the unit as well? If you find the tenant do you still pay the fee?
6. Are there any restrictions or extra charges for showings (they only do X number a week, or not on weekends etc.)?
Here are the rest of the property management fees that you need to be aware of and look out for:
There are plenty of ways to generate leads using free resources like signs, craigslist, etc. but with vacancies time is money and prolonging the search process to save a few advertising dollars is a bad idea. This fee could be charged in addition to the leasing fee so it’s important to ask who pays and what the typical fees are. The better they are at marketing the less you will pay, if they have a good strategy and use tools like rentmarketer.com this should be around $100 and certainly not more than $200.
Some property managers charge this fee whenever they have to draw up the paperwork to renew a tenant’s lease. The fee typically ranges from 0-200$. The process doesn’t require a lot of work, so a big fee should be a red flag. You should ask if they require lease renewals or if they allow tenants to go month to month after the initial term is up.
Reserve fund fee
These funds are used to pay day-to-day operating expenses, making sure that services are performed promptly and bills are paid in a timely manner. A reserve of $200-$500 is normal for single family properties.
Will they contact you with an estimate before performing repairs over a pre-defined amount? Is this negotiable?
8. Their policy may be to notify you if an expense exceeds a higher figure like $500-$1,000, but you may want to ask if this can be set lower ($100-$200) starting out and increased over time as you become more comfortable with the property management companies judgment. Additionally, if this notification is waived during “emergencies”, ask that they define what qualifies as an emergency.
Do they have their own maintenance/repair crew?
Companies that don’t offer this may portray it as an ethical hazard since the company could overcharge, but so long as you confirm that the billing rate and process is reasonable, it should not be a problem. If managed properly, an in house crew is a benefit that can lead to cost savings and a more streamlined process. Here are some questions to ask:
What services do they perform?
What is the billing rate? ($30-$40/hr is average.) Does it vary based on the work being done?
Is there a trip charge, or a minimum billing time?
Are they available 24/7/365? Is there an extra fee/higher billing rate if they are called on off hours, weekends, or holidays?
For larger remodeling/upgrade projects, do they act as the general contractor overseeing the work that is done? Is there a fee for this?
1. Do they get at least three independent bids for larger ($500+) projects?
2. Do they belong to a network to get better repair rates on the work they outsource?
3. Do they charge a “mark-up” fee?
This fee is stacked on top of the final bill for the work performed. Not all firms have this fee; if they do it should come in around 10%.
Fee for serving notices, dealing with attorneys, court appearances, evictions, etc. Hourly rates are typically $25-$50 while a flat fee for the whole eviction process usually comes in between $500-$600 (plus court costs). Find out if they typically use an attorney for evictions and what their billing rate is.
Unpaid invoice fee
This is a small service charge (typically 1.5%) that is added each month to all unpaid invoices that are past due.
Bill payment fee
Fee for making owner payments such as mortgage, insurance, home owners association dues, etc. Some management firms don’t charge a separate fee, while others don’t even provide this service.
Sales commission if property is sold
Some management firms require an exclusive arrangement to broker your properties. If this is their policy, find out the brokerage rate and make sure there is a limited term which will allow you to re-list with another firm if the property does not sell within a reasonable period of time. Also, if the firm requires it, how much would the sales commission be in the event that a tenant ends up wanting to purchase the property they are occupying? This is typically 1-3% but we have seen higher, always make sure to check the contract.
Find out if they will be keeping any portion of the following sources of income:
Returned check fees
Lease violation fees
Interest on security deposits (may not be applicable depending on state laws) and owner funds held by manager
Income from laundry and vending machines
Extra duties fee
Some contracts contain a list of extra services not included in the contract along with the billing rate in the event the owner requests any of them be performed. Check to see if this clause exists, what services are listed, and what the billing rate is.
Keep reading to find out where these funds go and how your management company will handle both your and your tenant’s funds.
N.B PROTECTA ONLY CHARGES ONE SET OF REASONABLE FEE, ALL SERVICES INCLUDED.
3 – 11 Questions for Determining if You Need a Property Management Firm
1. How far do you live from your rental property and how frequently can you visit the property on a regular basis?
If you are close you may be able to make the regular visits required for maintenance, inspections, collections, etc., otherwise the further you live the higher your travel time and expenses will be. The larger the distance the more temptation there is to not keep a close eye on things, and that can be a recipe for disaster. You should plan making monthly scheduled visits and there is always the potential for a middle of the night emergency call that requires your immediate attention. In the long run, is this feasible for you?
2. How do you deal with stress? Do you consider yourself to be a tolerant person?
This is a tough one. We all like to think of ourselves as level-headed and even-keeled, but at the end of the day it takes a special kind of person to deal with the ups and downs of property management. Behind the seemingly simple task of collecting rent every month lie a number of unpredictable problems can push people to their limits. Ask yourself how you would react in the unfortunate event that tenants:
9. Get in fights with other tenants or neighbors
10. Have domestic disputes
11. Conduct illegal business in the dwelling
12. Carry on all night parties and revelry
13. Try to sneak extra people or animals into the home
14. Decide to sue you
15. Trash the property
16. Incite the wrath of the HOA because of repeated deed restriction violations
17. Refuse to pay rent because they are a “professional tenant” and know how to work the legal system for the maximum amount of free housing at the owners expense?
3. Are you currently overwhelmed with your property(s)?
Managing rental properties can become quickly overwhelming, even for experienced investors. There is always something going on that requires attention and it takes very little time for things to get out of hand. Hiring a property manager can provide an opportunity to regain control and restore stability to both your properties and possibly life in general.
4. How many rental properties or units do you have?
As your portfolio grows so do the management challenges, and it becomes easier for things to fall through the cracks. Investors with large portfolios stand to reap significant benefit by leveraging the efficiencies a property manager can provide. Size can also constrain investors’ ability to consider purchasing new properties if they’re already maxed out managing their current holdings
5. How much experience do you have with maintenance and repairs?
If you can’t do it yourself, do you know who to call? Finding reliable handymen and contractors can take a while and in the mean time you may unknowingly hire people that are unethical, uninsured, do poor quality work, over charge etc. Maintenance and repairs are a significant component of land lording and if you question your ability to ensure the work is done well and in a timely manner, you might want to consider hiring a property management company.
6. How quickly are you able to get your unit rented?
Advertising, fielding calls, and showing the unit can take a considerable amount of time, but are critical tasks as vacancies will quickly eat into your profit margins. If you question whether you have the skills or the time to make this happen, OR if you have historically had an unacceptably high vacancy rate, you may want to consider hiring a property management company.
7. Are you capable of handling the accounting and record keeping for your property?
From profit and loss statements to tax deductions, this area needs special attention and becomes an increasingly larger burden for larger portfolios. Some owners (especially those with a back ground in finance) will do just fine, others may opt to hire an accountant to help with the book keeping. If you feel like this might be a weak point you might want to consider hiring a property management company.
8. Are you willing to be on call 24/7/365?
Its important to answer this question honestly, because when an emergency happens at your property you can’t ignore it. Your special event, important meeting, vacation, or personal crisis doesn’t relieve you of your obligation to your tenant. These emergencies don’t happen all the time, but when they do you have to be willing to handle them immediately. Can you handle being called at 2 in the morning to fix someone’s overflowing toilet?
9. Are you willing to confront tenants about late payments and if need be evict them from the property?
Many new owners dislike feeling like the bad guy and try to be understanding by making exceptions. The problem is that this only invites additional abuses and excuses by tenants. Late payments must be dealt with immediately, and while sometimes a friendly reminder is all that’s needed, other times, it can be a very confrontational process ending in eviction. Unlike running a charity, running a successful rental business means enforcing the rules even it means evicting a single mother who lost her job and won’t be able to pay rent anytime soon.
10. How well do you understand the laws governing land lording?
Ensuring the property is run in accordance with the law is critical in both preventing lawsuits and shielding yourself from liability if you are sued. Familiarity with contracts is also very important as your rental agreement is the only binding agreement between you and the tenant.
11. From a financial standpoint, is managing your property the best use of your time?
Ultimately, your decision to hire or not hire a management company should hinge on whether or not it is a good fit with your lifestyle and makes sense financially. Individual investors will have to assess the opportunity cost of both options based on their unique circumstances.
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4 – Property Management Services – A Complete List
Evaluate the property and determine an accurate rental rate
Market the property for rent
Prepare home for rent
Clean home and optimize interior appeal
Manicure landscaping to increase curb appeal
Create ads tailored to the property and advertising medium. Some of the mediums commonly used are:
Paid and free rental listing websites
Work with other realtors and leasing agents to find a tenant
Provide a 24-hour hot-line where prospective tenants can listen to detailed information about the property
Field calls from prospects for questions and viewings
Meet prospective tenants for showings throughout the week and weekend.
Provide prospective tenants with rental applications that are legally compliant with fair housing laws
Collection applications with application fee
5. Perform a background check to verify identity, income, credit history, rental history, etc.
6. Grade tenant according to pre-defined tenant criteria
7. Inform tenants who were turned down
Tenant Move In
Draw up leasing agreement
Confirm move in date with tenant
Review lease guidelines with tenant regarding things like rental payment terms and required property maintenance
Ensure all agreements have been properly executed
Perform detailed move in inspection with tenant and have tenants sign a report verifying the condition of the property prior to move-in.
Collect first months rent and security deposit
1. Receiving rent
2. Hunting down late payments
3. Sending out pay or quit notices
4. Enforcing late fees
1. Filing relevant paperwork to initiate and complete an unlawful detainer action
2. Representing owner in court
3. Coordinating with law enforcement to remove tenant and tenants possessions from unit
• Advise in the event of a legal dispute or litigation
• Refer owner to a qualified attorney when necessary
• Understand and abide by the latest local, state and federal legislation that apply to renting and maintaining rental properties.
• Perform periodic inspections (Inside and outside) on a predefined schedule looking for repair needs, safety hazards, code violations, lease violations, etc.
• Send owner periodic reports on the condition of the property
• Provide accounting property management services
• Make payments on behalf of owner (Mortgage, insurance, HOA dues, etc.)
• Detailed documentation of expenses via invoices and receipts
• Maintain all historical records (paid invoices, leases, inspection reports, warranties, etc.)
• Provide annual reporting, structured for tax purposes as well as required tax documents including a 1099 form
• Advise owner on relevant tax deductions related to their rental property
• Provide easy to read monthly cash-flow statements which offer a detailed breakdown of income and itemized expenses
Maintenance, Repairs, and Remodeling
• Provide and oversee an in-house maintenance crew
• Establish a preventative maintenance policy to identify and deal with repair needs
• Provide an network of licensed, bonded and fully insured contractors who have been vetted for good pricing and good work that is up to code.
• Assign jobs to different parties (in-house employees, handyman and professional contractors) based on who will do the best job for the best price.
• Maintain outdoor areas
◦ Leaf and snow removal
◦ Removing trash and debris
• Maintain and monitor a 24 hour emergency repair hot-line
• Larger renovation or rehab projects
◦ Provide recommendations on how the project can maximize rental income.
◦ Prepare preliminary cost estimates
◦ Get multiple independent bids for the work
◦ Act as general contractor overseeing the work
Tenant Move Out
• Inspect unit and fill out a report on the property’s condition when the client moves out
• Provide tenant with a copy as well as estimated damages
• Return the balance of the security deposit to the tenant
• Forward any portion of the owner’s portion of the tenant deposit to the owner or hold in owner reserves for repairs.
• Clean unit and perform and needed repairs or upgrades
• Re-key the locks
• Put the property back on the market for rent
This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive list of property management services, but it should give you a fair idea of the scope of a property management company’s activities
At this point you may be thinking, “Ok, so that’s what they can do, but how does all of this benefit me and relate to the big picture of my real estate investment strategy?”. Keep reading to find out.
5 – What Are The Benefits of Using a Property Management Company?
A competent property manager can add significant value to your investment, which is why many seasoned real estate investors will tell you that a good management company is worth their weight in gold. Here are a few ways that a good property manager earns their keep:
Higher Quality Tenants
Think of tenant screening as the moat and draw bridge around your castle. It is certainly possible to get a bad tenant out of your home once they are in, but it’s a real hassle and you are so much better off never accepting them in the first place. A thorough screening process results in reliable tenants that:
18. Pay on time
19. Rent longer
20. Put less wear and tear on the unit
21. Generally cause less problems
An experienced property management company has seen thousands of applications and knows how to quickly dig for the real facts about candidates and analyze that information for warning signs. By allowing a management company to handle the screening, you will also be shielding yourself from rental scams directed at owners, and discrimination lawsuits resulting from an inconsistent screening process. This kind of experience takes time, and insomuch as it means avoiding bad tenants, scams and lawsuits it is arguably one of the most significant benefits a property management company will provide.
Fewer costly and time consuming legal problems
Veteran landlords know it only takes one troublesome tenant to cause significant legal and financial headaches. A good property manager is armed with the knowledge of the latest landlord-tenant laws and will ensure that you are not leaving yourself vulnerable to a potential law suit. Each state and municipality have their own laws, these plus federal law cover a number of areas including but not limited to:
Safety and property conditions of the property
Handling security deposits
Avoiding a single law suit can more than pay for the property management fees, and spare you time and anguish.
Shorter vacancy cycles
A property manager will help you perform three critical tasks that affect how long it takes to fill your vacancies:
5. Improve and prepare the property for rent – A property manager will suggest and oversee cosmetic improvements that maximize revenue.
6. Determine the best rent rate – Too high and you are stuck waiting, to low and you’re losing money every month the tenant is in the unit. Determining the optimal price requires knowledge of the local market, data on recently sold comparables, and access to rental rate tools.
7. Effectively market your property – An experienced property management company has written hundreds of ads and understands what to say and where advertise in order to get a larger pool of candidates in a shorter period of time. Additionally because of their volume they can usually negotiate cheaper advertising rates both online and offline. Lastly, they are familiar with sales and know how to close when they field calls from prospects and take them on showings.
Better tenant retention
While its easy to see the effects of lost rent, there are other equally serious problems with a high tenant turnover rate. The turnover process involves a thorough cleaning, changing the locks, painting the walls and possibly new carpet or small repairs, not to mention all the effort associated with marketing, showing , screening and settling in a new tenant. This is a time-consuming and expensive process that can often be averted by keeping tenants happy and well cared for.
A good property management company will have a time-tested tenant retention policy that ensures happy tenants with lengthy stays in your properties. These kinds of programs require a consistent, systematic approach, which is where a good property management company will shine.
Tighter rent collection process
The way you handle rent collection and late payments can be the difference between success and failure as a landlord. Collecting rent on time every month is the only way to maintain consistent cash-flow, and your tenants need to understand this is not negotiable. By hiring a property manager, you put a buffer between yourself and the tenant, and allow them to be the bad guy who has to listen to excuses, chase down rent, and when necessary, evict the person living in your property.
If you let them, your tenants will walk all over you. They have to be trained to follow every part of the lease or deal with the consequences. Property managers have an advantage because tenants realize that they, unlike the owner, are only doing their job and are obligated to enforce the lease terms. Many property managers will tell you that it is considerably easier to manage other people’s units rather than their own for this reason.
Regarding evictions, there are strict laws concerning the eviction process, and doing it wrong, or trying to evict a “professional tenant” can be a MAJOR fiasco. A good property management firm knows the law and has a good process for obtaining the best possible outcome given the circumstances. Never having to handle another eviction can be a compelling reason to consider hiring a property management company.
Assistance with taxes
A property management company can help you understand which deductions you can claim, as well as organize the necessary forms and documentation to make those claims. Additionally, the property management fees themselves are also tax deductible.
Lower maintenance and repair costs
Good maintenance and repairs keep tenants happy and preserve the value of your investment which make them a very important part of land-lording. By hiring a management firm you gain access to both their in-house maintenance staff, as well as their network of licensed, bonded and insured contractors who have already been vetted for good pricing and quality work. This can translate into significant savings compared to going through the yellow pages and hiring a handyman yourself. Not only is the firm able to get volume discounts on the work, they also know the contractors and understand maintenance issues such that they are capable of intelligently supervising the work.
Increase the value of the investment
Preventative maintenance is achieved through putting systems in place that catch and deal with maintenance and repair issues early on, before they grow into larger more costly problems. This requires a written maintenance check program, detailed maintenance documentation and regular maintenance visits. The management firm can also offer you suggestions and feedback on upgrades and modifications, both how they will affect the rent you can charge, as well as their impact on maintenance and insurance.
Personal benefits for owners
4. Less stress – Avoid having to deal with middle of the night emergencies, chasing down rent, evicting people from your property, tenants who wreck your property, rental scams, lousy vendors, piles of paperwork.
5. More freedom – Live and invest wherever you want with the constraint of needing to be near your properties. Additionally you can live and travel without the requirement of always being available in the event that your tenants have a need you have to tend to. Once you have found a good management company, it doesn’t matter if you live in the same state. Some landlords live in other countries and simply collect their check every month without ever seeing the property.
6. Free up more of your time – Time is money, and for many investors, their time can be more profitably spent in areas other than servicing their properties. When you focus on asset management you’re working ON your business, when you manage your own properties you work IN it. Additionally you have more time to spend with family or friends doing things you enjoy.
A final thought
Of course, this is an ideal scenario. These results can only be expected if a management company is competent, trustworthy and a good fit for your property. A poor choice of a management company can produce many headaches of its own.
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