“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)
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