5 Ways to Handle Communication in a Growing Real Estate Portfolio


“Hey ya Tim, just wanted to let you know that the city didn’t pick up our garbage on garbage day.

It was a tenant at one of my student rentals calling me.

“Huh? Well did you put it out at the curb before 8am?”

“On the curb? No. It’s at the back of the house. They don’t go and get it from there?”

It probably would have been pretty funny except my phone was ringing non stop. I was in high demand!

Now, if I was a single guy with a dating profile online, this probably would have been great news. But instead it was my tenants interrupting my precious family time with my wife and 3 boys.

I only owned five properties at that time, and was about to add several more to my real estate portfolio. Something had to change. I didn’t get into real estate to have it run my life. I got into real estate so I could have more control over my time.

One of the challenges with student rentals is that this is often the first time away from Mom & Dad … Since the majority of my real estate portfolio is student rentals, I really had to find a way to handle the incoming communication. I did not want to explain to students how I to change light bulbs or do a load of laundry.

This is how I got control over the incoming communication … and how just about any real estate investor with a growing real estate portfolio can do the same:

1 Property Manager

I managed my own properties for some time and all was going well till I added my 4th or 5th house. Then, it just all got a bit too much. It also meant that I was critical to the process.

What if I wanted a vacation? Who’d manage the houses then?

For my properties that are further away it doesn’t make sense for me to drive all that way to do showings. So, the property manager is very important. Make sure they have experience with the type of strategy you’re working on, get referrals, ask at your club meetings, get them to show you some of the houses they manage, tag along when they do a showing. They are going to be the main gatekeeper between everyday goings on and your freedom. (Read this for questions to ask a property manager before you hire them)

2 Texting

The millennial generation likes to text. It’s not a bad thing. Texting can be an efficient way of communicating especially when setting up showings. Your online ad will get lots more responses if you include a number to text. I’ve tried it with and without and I’d say the numbers of inquiries are about 3 fold with a text capability. But, there are a couple of important distinctions to make. You don’t want to give them your personal cell number and you don’t want to be ON 24/7.

My solution? A free service called textnow.com gives me a local Canadian cell number, which I can then give to students or put on an online ad. A great feature of this is that it has both an app for my iphone but also a web browser interface. Instead of responding to texts all day long you can then log into the web page and check them a couple of times a day. To take it a step further I’ve also given access to my virtual assistant so they can respond to texts on my behalf as well.

The last thing about texts is that you’ll ideally want some way of keeping them, as conversations need to be tracked so that they can be referenced in future if necessary.Textnow has the ability to send a copy of text messages to you via email. In my gmail account I then auto archive any messages coming in from the textnow domain. This way I am essentially archiving every text conversation I have.

3 Phone calls

Similarly to texts, students will likely want to phone and talk to you. You can utilize the textnow number and you can answer that directly on your smart phone if you’d like to. Clearly if you’ve taken on a property manager this will become less relevant over time, but I still remain involved and therefore this is a useful tool.

When accepting phone calls and messages from tenants, it’s important to make a distinction between different types of issues. We advise students to phone us if it’s urgent, for example a flood, leak, electrical issue etc. But if it’s just a general question or request (which it often is) we ask them to send us an email. That way it can be looked up in the future if necessary. Lastly have a clear voicemail reiterating this and providing instructions on what you’d like them to do.

4 Educating Tenants

We provide a binder in each student house, which has all the appropriate contact details and instructions of key things they may need to get involved with. The binder includes important information like what day the garbage needs to go out and who to contact in which situation. We also provide some fun things such as Pizza delivery phone number and other local amenities. You could include a bus timetable or a map of the city anything you think would be useful.

5 Not responding immediately

Our natural response to getting asked questions is to answer them. I remember when I started out I tried to respond as fast as I could. I wanted to be the best landlord ever. I’d phone people back straight away or respond to texts to make sure everyone was happy. The problem I found with this strategy was the quicker I responded, the more questions I got.

Some of this goes back to being away from mom and dad for the first time. But it’s not just students. A lot of people are just used to instant gratification. I learned the hard way that communication needs to be carefully managed. Urgent things can be dealt with quickly but outside of that I encourage people to send an email and let them know that I’ll respond within 24 hours. Delaying a response to “the internet is down” often means that by the time you’ve respond they’ve unplugged the modem and plugged it back in again and it’s working! Educating tenants with the best way to communicate from day one is best as they’ll hopefully respect that and act accordingly. Trying to change behavior once it’s established is a harder prospect.

It’s possible you can handle everything on your own and not have to use any of the tips and strategies I’ve talked about above. But I believe the sooner you start getting help and put systems in place as you’re growing your real estate portfolio (especially with your student rentals) and putting some tools in place the sooner the sooner you can move on to buying another property, going on vacation or just spending more time with you kids. At least with these things in place you’ll have a choice!

[plain]Tim Collins has been investing in real estate since he was 20 years old. Tim is the authority on student rentals and is regularly featured in Canadian Real Estate Wealth Magazine. He focuses on building his student rental portfolio with joint venture partners, whilst also helping others with advice and guidance through speaking engagements, workshops & studentrentalinvesting.com.

On Oct 29th Tim is kicking off his 7 week Student Rentals for Maximum Cashflow course. Go to studentrentalcashflow.com for more details and to sign up. Early bird pricing for Rev N You readers is available now until Oct 10th. [/plain]
1st Image Credit: © Artofphoto
2nd Image Credit: © Dolgachov

5 Ways to Make Money & Minimize Hassles Student Rental Investing


It was midnight. My son was passed out beside my wife Steph and I. The other two kids were off with friends for the weekend so we’d been able to make our way to Hamilton to work on our new student rental. And that’s where we were – side by side, sitting on the floor with Allen wrenches in our hands building furniture. We finished at about 2am, pumped up our air mattress and collapsed onto it in the middle of our now furnished common room.

We had students moving in the next day and we needed to get the whole house ready for their arrival. There was a lot to be done to welcome them to their new home.

Student Rental Investing is not glamorous, but it’s lucrative. It’s a great strategy for me – giving students a great place to live when they leave home – and making a great income to do it. Because of this business, I’ve left my job and am a full time real estate investor. But, it’s not for everyone. Besides the fact that you may not want to build or move furniture, there are some other things to consider to tackle this strategy successfully.

Here are 5 Ways to Minimize Hassles and Make more Money Student Rental Investing:

1. Make Sure It’s the Right Strategy for You

Student rentals can provide very strong cash flow. In many cases you will have 5/6/7 students living in a house paying you $400 – $500 per room. When you’re buying a house for $300,000 and generating $3,500 per month in rental income – you will be spending time considering what you’ll do with the more than $1,000 positive cash flow each month.

The cash is great but it comes at a cost – your time. You’re dealing with young adults who are away from home for the first time, and have no idea about maintaining and running a house. Phone calls because ‘the internet is down’ to light bulbs being out happen quite often. You’re also going experience more turnover than other buy and hold strategies. While university programs can run from 1 to 4 years, if you can keep the same group in the house for 2 years straight you’re doing well.

One of the biggest challenges is ensuring you keep a single lease in place so a student house doesn’t become a rooming house. Even though it’s one lease, it’s multiple rent payments to collect each month. There are lots of simple processes in place to help, but you’ll still need to be on top of all of those.

2. Financing & Legislation

Financing is one of the most challenging aspects of this strategy. Some lenders have offered options for student housing mortgages in the past but these typically have more stringent stipulations on borrowing. The downpayment is also likely to be in the 25%+ range. The other option is to buy a single family home and convert it to student housing at a later date. For either of these options I would recommend speaking to an expert in the field and also a mortgage broker.

Each city will also have different legislation detailing how it zones these types of dwelling. Some will regulate the number of students per house and also have rules on maintenance, fire safety standards, insurance, parking, noise etc. In cities that license student housing the cost is typically circa $500 for the first year and then it drops slightly in subsequent years. Make sure you do your own due diligence in your particular city, so that you are fully aware of all your costs and responsibilities in advance.

3. Location

Where do the students want to live? Many students rely heavily on walking, biking or public transportation so the closer to the University or College, the better. But, sometimes right around the corner isn’t the most desirable area. You have to find out where students want to live, and if there is a need for more housing in that area. Best place to start your research is the schools off campus housing office. They should be able to give you a variety of information including where people want to live and also typical rents.

Ideally, your opportunity will be in finding out if there is a shortage of housing on campus or near campus and then determining what you need to do to fill that void. (How to find great real estate investing deals might be an article you’d also like to check out.)

My favourite strategy is to take a walk. I walk from the school and look at the housing within a 15 min walk or less. That allows me to focus in on the best options. Students will take the bus if necessary and a lot of universities include public transit in the tuition fees but I find the closer I can be to the University, the more rent I can charge and the more demand I will have.

Watch in your area – usually the houses closest to the school will be the first to be rented. You can actually see the university from one of my houses and the kids love that.

4. Get Help

Managing your own student rental takes a lot of your time. If you have to add a lot of travel time to get there from where you live then you can expect this to become a part time side job.

You need to be visiting your properties at least monthly to look for and issues (damage, cleanliness, water/ leaks). In addition to that there will be regular calls from the students, for many small things that come up including inter house politics! Then there are the time intensive periods of the year when you are showing the house to groups, collecting deposits and signing the lease.

If you don’t want to handle all of this on your own, a local property manager who is comfortable and experienced with student rentals is going to be extremely useful to you in manage the property. I think of a good property manager as someone who can create a protective forcefield between you and the tenants, whilst still keeping you in the loop when necessary.

It’s important to sit down with your PM and get on the same page. Do they currently deal with Student housing? If so get some references, student rentals are more time intensive and higher maintenance for a PM. Understand and set an expected response time. e.g. a tenant call should be returned within 2 hours if urgent or 24 hours if not urgent. When you evaluate and sign the SLA (service level agreement) set expectations accordingly with the students.

Also understand how the property manager prefers to communicate with the tenants. Do they prefer a phone call, email or text? Students tend to prefer to be able to text so having a property manager that is ok communicating that way – or has a way to receive texts – will be important.

If your property manager is going to handle tenant placement, you’ll want to review your tenant selection criteria (groups/ individuals, couples, etc), and agree on an application form that gathers all necessary information. Discuss the financials including when you’ll get your rent payment (set a specific day of the month), what $ value your approval needs to be given for expenditures and placement costs for filling houses. Lastly maintain regular communication with your PM. Investing in student rentals is more hands on than other strategies so stay in touch and be proactive.

5. Maintenance/ Cleaning


Mom isn’t around to clean up after the kids anymore. Add to that, there are lots of extra people in the house. Students need to know when garbage collection days are and where to put the garbage. Additionally ensure there are adequate bins provided for both garbage and recycling. The cleanliness of the house should be monitored regularly to avoid and issues with pests entering the home.

Students who are adverse to cleaning may be prepared to contribute to a cleaning service once a month. There is typically a lot of mess left behind at move out time so be prepared to get rid of or recycle old furniture and beds. You or your property manager should be there at that time to oversee things and ensure the house is left in good condition. (Here’s a fun video Tim shot on the subject of keeping student rentals clean.)

Maintenance Starts with Good Materials:

If you’re renovating a house to make it suitable for students, that’s a great time to select appropriate materials. Commercial grade laminate flooring is perfect, and the newer vinyl tiled type flooring is solid and cost effective for bathrooms and the kitchens. Larger maintenance tasks should be tackled in the summer when it’s likely that some of the students will vacate the house. It makes sense to pick a project to work on each year to continuously be improving the rental. Frequent upgrades will increase the likelihood of tenant retention and will make the house easier to fill with a new group in the future. I’ve seen many examples of houses that are rented to students with no further investment made and they deteriorate rapidly.

On Sunday, after my wife Steph and I stayed up late building furniture, it was amazing moving in the students and seeing how proud and pleased their parents were to have their kids moving into a quality home. Some parents even said this was nicer than where the kids lived now. That was rewarding. The $1500 a month positive cashflow we’re getting from the property is pretty nice too. You can understand why in the month of March alone I’ve added three more of these properties to my portfolio.

Tim collinsToday’s article is a guest post from Tim Collins. Tim has been investing in real estate since he was 20 years old.  Tim is the authority on student rentals and is regularly featured in Canadian Real Estate Wealth Magazine. He focuses on building his student rental portfolio with joint venture partners, whilst also helping others with advice and guidance through speaking engagements, workshops & studentrentalinvesting.com.


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