Whipping Winter Woes
October 1, 2000
Winter’s an awful time to have a vacancy. What with the cold and the nasty weather, people just don’t want to move. Then you throw in the holidays on top of that. . . . Well, it just makes vacancies downright unpleasant during the winter time.
Sometimes you get them no matter what. But if you plan properly you can cut down the chances that you will have vacancies during the hardest time of the year to get a unit rented. Do it right and you could have close to full units all winter long.
Here’s how to make winter a little—or a lot—easier in the rental property business.
First, don’t get stuck with bad tenants over the winter. Your best bet is to boot them now, before winter sets in. The reason you want to do it now is that evictions, if done properly in most states, will be completed in a month or less. So if you file the eviction now, or give notice to vacate now, your bad tenants will be out before Thanksgiving.
What happens after Thanksgiving? The holiday season. The cluster of holidays in December and January throws a monkey wrench into the legal system. So if you wait to evict until then three or four things might happen, none of them good.
1. You give the appearance of being the evil, uncaring landlord of myth and legend, kicking people out of their homes in the dead of winter, and, worst of all, right before Christmas.
2. Many judges won’t order a tenant out during the holiday season, but will delay the eviction until January. Meanwhile, you’ll get no rent.
3. Some courts won’t even hear eviction cases in December.
4. You have a vacancy in the winter.
Second, if you use leases rather than month-to-month tenancies, never have them expire in November, December or January. Seattle landlord Paul Birkeland, who has a policy of never having leases expire in November or December, wrote in the Apartment Association of Seattle/King County AASK Update “These [November and December] are times when we like our business to quiet down, and these are the times we like to enjoy the holidays. Our employees especially appreciate this policy.”
Third, if you have a winter vacancy, you will have to do some unique things with advertising and showing to attract the few tenants who will actually be moving. Start by building word pictures of a home where you won’t care if it’s cold outside, you’re warm inside. Use words and phrases in your advertising such as, “warm and cozy,” Sit in front of a crackling fire,” “When it’s nasty outside, you’ll just smile,” or “snuggle up to a warm hearth this winter.”
Make an event of showing your vacant units. Turn on the heat before showings, making it even warmer than someone would normally keep the temperature. If the unit has a fireplace, light a fire. Turn on all the lights, and use higher-watt light bulbs. Put vanilla on a light bulb: it makes it smell as if cookies are baking in the oven. Clear away any snow from the walkway to the front door. Plant winter plants in beds outside, such as ornamental kale or cabbage.
There’s no reason to make our business any more difficult than it already is. Not suffering bad tenants, planning to avoid winter vacancies and energetic marketing if you do have one can make Christmas a lot merrier.