Keeping good tenants begins when they first rent from you. Their impression of you is set in stone within the first five days after they move into your property. So keeping good tenants starts with creating a good first impression. You want their attitude to be, “I chose this place as my home, and I like living here. Things aren’t always perfect, but I have a landlord who cares about me and the property;” rather than “it’s just a place to live.”
What follow are ten ways to keep good tenants. In fact many of the ten are also ways to encourage marginal tenants to be good. If you make your rental properties great places to live, the marginal tenants don’t want to do anything to mess up living there, so they try to be on their best behavior. Great service is contagious.
1. Give every new tenant a move-in packet.
This is a folder or large envelope that welcomes your new tenant. It is not a list of rules and regulations. Rather it is an opportunity for you to thank your new customer for doing business with you.
What should be in it? Mindy Williams, editor of Rent and Retain Magazine, suggests the following:
• A welcome letter
• Utilities Hookup phone numbers
• Email address & phone for maintenance
• A “How to Set Up Your Apartment” form. This explains how to set the microwave, how to use the dishwasher, what not to put in the garbage disposal, how to test the smoke detector, how to change the air filter, where the electric shut off is, where the main water shut off is and phone numbers of how to reach you and/or the manager or management company.
• Renter’s insurance information
• Area maps
• Fire safety information (get it from the fire department)
• Bus and/or train schedules
• Takeout and delivery menus from local restaurants
• Applications for: Video stores, health club, bank, library card, water delivery companies; a post office change of address form, etc. By including the applications you are saving your new resident time. You also are giving them a perception of convenience. They can just walk into the video store, hand in the application, and by the time they select a movie, their card will be ready. It doesn’t matter if they use the forms: the fact that you thought enough to offer the convenience makes a great impression.
• Coupons from local businesses : You may be able to think of even more things to include in the welcome packet. Just don’t try to anticipate what individual tenants will want: it’s too difficult and time-consuming, and could be construed as discriminatory. It doesn’t matter so much what is in the welcome packet, just that you thought enough of them to provide it.
2. Follow up with new tenants a day or so after they move in to make sure everything is as promised and expected. Have you ever had major dental work done and gotten a call from the dentist personally that evening to find out if everything was okay? Wasn’t that a surprise? Weren’t you pleased? It made you feel as if the dentist cared about you, didn’t it? You can create the same great impression with a new tenant, simply by making a phone call. If something is not as you promised or they expected, don’t you want to know? Then you can take care of it. Even if your new tenant has no complaints, he or she will be just as surprised and pleased as you were when the dentist called.
3. Inspect the unit regularly and fix what’s broken. Good tenants don’t mind regular inspections. Just let them know when they move in that you will be doing inspections. The idea is that you want to maintain the property in tip top condition. After you do the inspection, make sure you fix what’s wrong. Of course you expect that the tenant will call you for things that are broken and you encourage them to do that. What you are looking for during your quarterly or semi-annual inspections are little things that a tenant might not call about: a cracked window, loose screws, cracked or broken floor tiles, loose handrails. You get the idea.
4. Under-promise and over-deliver. Always do what you say you will do. Just as important— never promise something you can’t do. This goes right along with number two, but adds another dimension to it. For example, suppose you get a call from a tenant complaining about noise or inappropriate behavior from a neighbor (another of your tenants). Tell the complaining tenant, “I’ll look into it and get back to you. If you haven’t heard from me in two or three days, call me.” Never, under any circumstances promise to fix the problem or to do something specific by a certain time. For one thing you haven’t gotten the other tenant’s side of the story.
What you do is investigate the problem and either email or call the complaining tenant with a summary of what you found out and what you are doing to correct the problem or disarm the situation. That is under promising and over delivering. Your tenant will be pleasantly surprised to hear back from you if you handle the situation this way.
On the other hand, had you promised to deal with the situation by a certain date and time and to let the tenant know what you were doing, you had better be right on time with your report or the tenant will remember only that you didn’t do what you said you would. That is bad customer service.
5. Survey tenants to discover unfulfilled expectations, then fill them. Every so often send out a survey form to all your tenants who have lived in your properties more than a month or so. Your objective is to find out if there is anything they had expected that they are not getting from their home. Let’s go back to the example of the noisy neighbors. In this case, however, your tenant never called you, he just seethed dejectedly in a dark corner of his apartment, thinking about moving. In fact, he’d even started checking the internet to see what was available. Then he gets a survey form from you wanting to know how things are in his home. Oh, does he let you know. Don’t take that personally. After all, you didn’t know about the problem because he hadn’t told you. And what with not being a mind reader, you could not have known. Now you do. Thank your tenant.
Who knows why tenants don’t call you to complain about conditions in their unit. It could be a variety of reasons—there is simply no way that you could anticipate all of them. What you have to do is cut through all the reasons and ask your customers if there is anything you can do for them. Give them the opportunity to tell you what’s on their minds. This is a golden opportunity to keep your best customers. Take advantage of it.
When you get the survey forms back, it is important that you acknowledge the fact that you received them, even if they weren’t complaining. If they were complaining, though, it is essential that you acknowledge them. How do you take care of the complaint? Go back to number four—under promise and over deliver.
6. Empower managers to do what is necessary to satisfy an unhappy tenant on the spot. If you have managers for your buildings, sometimes they feel they have to ask you if it’s all right to fix a tenant problem. Give them the power to fix problems. Any problem? Certainly not. Your job as the owner is to sit down with the manager and make up a list of the most common complaints and problems you will have to deal with and what should be done—step by step. Now you have a script for your manager to follow.
It is important that the manager doesn’t whip out the policy manual whenever a tenant comes in with a problem. The idea is to pretend that this problem is unique (even if he or she has heard it a hundred times before), listen carefully, take notes, ask what will make the tenant happy, then take care of the situation according to the policy manual. The unhappy tenant doesn’t have to know that the solution is all in the policy manual, in fact, it is important he or she does not. Because the manager has taken the time to listen and understand your tenant’s complaint, your tenant will feel as if someone cares and can take care of the situation.
7. Do something to reward good tenants.
It doesn’t have to be much, but it could be a lot. A thank you letter to your tenant for being such a good resident goes a long way toward creating good feelings. Too many times people say to themselves, “I always pay my rent on time and am careful not to bother anybody, but nobody appreciates me.” Appreciate them. Send them something that shows how much you value their being your tenant.
If you don’t feel as if a thank you note is enough, send flowers, a box of candy, a bottle of champagne, or anything else that you feel is appropriate and will make them feel appreciated.
8. Make every tenant feel unique and special. If you don’t know the names of your tenants’ children, their pets, if you don’t know where they work, if you don’t know their birth dates and when they moved in, create a database that tells you. You want your customers to know that you know about them. So if a tenant calls you, you can look them up on their tenant card or in your database, and ask how little Johnny and Suzie like school; if their dog, Fido, was okay after the emergency visit to the vet; how the job is going at ABC Co. They will be surprised and pleased that you remember them and would be thoughtful enough to ask.
9. DON’T trade off bad service or conditions for lower prices. Orvel Ray Wilson, author of Guerrilla Selling, in an article entitled “A Crash Course in Customer Recourse” wrote: “Guerrillas track both satisfiers (if you do these, the customer will be more satisfied) and “dissatisfiers” (if you fail to do these, they will be less satisfied). Satisfiers and “dissatisfiers” are independent. That is, failing to provide a satisfier will not provoke a negative response, and providing more satisfiers does not necessarily compensate for a “dissatisfier.” For example, lower prices (satisfier) will not compensate for poor housekeeping (“dissatisfier”). By eliminating “dissatisfiers,” guerrillas make more customers happier while maintaining reasonable margins.”
Substitute the word “landlord” for “guerrilla.” The rent is low, but the place is in shambles. Paint is peeling, all kinds of things need repair—none of them serious, but it looks kind of bad. Tenants (especially good ones) don’t think about the rent being low, only that the place doesn’t look very good. They might even think the rent is too high for a “dump like this.”
You can charge market rents or higher if you provide good service, but lower rents won’t get good tenants to trade off for unsatisfactory conditions except in unusual situations or with possibly less-than-good tenants.
10. Remind your tenants of what you have done for them. People forget things as the day-to-day vagaries of life jump up and bite them. Your tenants, even the best ones, bless their hearts, will forget the things you have done to make their home a better place to live. Keep track in your tenant data base, and at the appropriate time, send them a letter telling them how much you appreciate their being your customer and thank them for the opportunity to have served them by getting a neighbor to quiet down, fix the cracked window, touch up the paint in the living room, make the handrail safer on their stairs, and so on.
Keeping good tenants means keeping your eye on the customer service ball. Never miss an opportunity to do the little things and the big things to provide top-notch service to your tenants. And don’t neglect the opportunity to remind them of what you’ve done. Do these things and you can look forward to having your good tenants stay with you a long time and thank you for being their landlord.