We have all heard “fake it until you make it.”
Well there is a lot of truth to this! Today I am going to share some “must have” vendors and tools I use as a Landlord and that will help any landlord improve their image to their tenants.
I have used some of them since we first got started and they have helped us carry the presence of a large company even when it was just my wife and I working out of a spare bedroom of our house when we were managing only 4 units! Now, ten years later we are managing over 100 units.
Let me first say upfront that I don’t receive any affiliate marketing fees, commissions, kickbacks, or even a thank you from these companies. I am just a fan of their services and want to share them with my fellow landlords on Bigger Pockets!
First let me say WHY it’s important for you to look like a “Big Landlord.” There may be times where it benefits you to look like a startup or a newbie, but I can think of many more where it benefits you to look like a large company.
Banks and potential investors want to do business with seasoned companies and contractors will take you more seriously if they don’t think you are brand new to the business. Most importantly though, the people you want to show a presence of a large company to are your tenants. No one wants tenants to figure out that you are just getting started.
When we bought our first rentals, I told the tenants I worked for the property management company! They bought it for a while but soon figured things out when the only phone number they had for me went to my cell phone, I didn’t have a website, and the rent checks went to a PO Box. Once the tenants figured out that I was a newbie, I was in big trouble.
They tested me at every corner, from inventing off the wall maintenance repairs to coming up with excuse after excuse on why they couldn’t pay their rent. I once had a tenant tell me that he mailed his rent in on time, but the stamp fell off in transit.
I don’t want to see anyone get taken advantage of like we did early on so here are some services we use to give you the presence of a large company and hopefully the respect that comes along with it.
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1. Get a Logo and Letterhead
There’s nothing that smells like newbie more than a business card with a generic logo, or even worse one from those online business card companies that gives you free business cards if you put their commercial on the back.
We all know these cards and it’s hard to take them or the people that hand them to you seriously. For a few more dollars you can go out and have a logo and letterhead created for you. Try 99 Designs to start. Or better yet find someone in your network that is creative and can make a high resolution logo for you. Once you get that logo, put it on EVERYTHING.
Business cards, email signature lines, letters to tenants, and on and on. It sounds simple but it goes a long way and it will look like you are a more established business.
2.Use a Web Based Phone Service
Tenants should never have your cell number.
I learned that the hard way after many phone calls on weekends and nights with nuisance requests that could be addressed the next business day. You can create a number through one of these phone services that will give you the barrier to your tenants and also allow you to do some marketing and even call screening. There are several companies like this and you should shop around. The free but very limited version of this service is Google Voice.
We use a service called Grasshopper. When someone calls the number they get options – they can listen to a recording on properties we have available for rent, leave a message if they are interested in selling a property, or reach us directly by dialing our extension. If they have an emergency there is an option to page one of us at any hour.
When they are looking to speak to one of us directly, the service then forwards them to a desk at the office and then a cell. If we are available, we can be reached. We can also screen the call and take it or forward it to voicemail. If they leave a message it even gets emailed to us as an mp3. The only thing I would do differently is not use a toll free number, which was prestigious a while ago but doesn’t mean anything now!
3. Get a Real Website and Email
The next thing that smells like newbie is an email address on a card that ends in gmail, yahoo, etc.
For not much money you can setup a domain name and reserve a website using your business name if you have one or a “Doing Business As” name if you are a sole proprietor. We use Blue Host for ours and have been very happy.
Again, shop around because there are a ton of companies that can provide that service. Once you get the domain name reserved, you need to go out and build yourself a website. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy to start, it can really be an online business card with a brief explanation of who you are and what you do. Providers like Weebly will let you build a site like this for free or very close to it. You can also go a bit bigger and jump into a more robust website.
We use WordPress for our site, which allows a ton more flexibility. We can add regular updates easily and even videos. We also added an online rental application to our website through a WordPress plug in called Form Maker. If you are a small company with a robust website, you no longer look like a small company.
4. Standardize Your Door Locks
I see so many landlords walking around with a wad of keys the size of a softball.
Even with the nice tags on each key, it becomes a mess to manage all the door keys for your units once you own more than 2 or 3 of them. And once you change the locks on an apartment after a move out, you either have to bring out the drill and take the time to swap the locks out or face a handyman bill of at least $100.
I have several landlord colleagues that still operate that way, and more than once I have heard that they went out for a showing and found that they had an old set of keys to a unit that had locks changed. It makes a bad impression on a potential tenant, I’m sure!
We use a service called Landlord Locks. With it, you move to a very professional system that involves one master key for that opens all your apartments. The master key has a huge DO NOT DUPLICATE stamp on it which is normally honored by hardware stores and locksmiths. You also get the ability to change the locks by pulling out the core of the lock, the housing stays in the door. It’s easily done, even by those that are not that handy (like myself, I must admit).
5. Use an Accounting System Made for Rentals
We used to manage our portfolio using spreadsheets and a checkbook register.
If you are still operating this way, you will soon see that as you expand your business you will need an accounting system that allows you to keep accurate real time financials that is easy to use.
There are many accounting software solutions out there, the most popular is of course QuickBooks. You can use QuickBooks for our business, but I have found that as its not tailored to what we do as landlords. You have to work around a few things to make it work.
There are others that are centered on real estate including Yardi and the one we use, Rent Manager. We are able to keep an active database of all our tenants and can email rent invoices to everyone automatically. If they have a carryover balance from the month before, the system automatically drops that into the invoice too.
We can print out checks for payments and upload our credit card expenses too. Additionally, at the end of the month I run accurate Cash Flow statements to see how we performed and compare it to prior months. I can send this report along to our investors as well so they can see how their investment with us is performing.
6. Ditch the PO Box
Most real estate investors got started working from home, as we did.
There is nothing wrong with it as you can keep overhead down, as long as you have the self-discipline to keep busy with all the distractions that can come up! You don’t want to give tenants your home address of course, so you open up a PO Box, right?
I know they are affordable and can be convenient also, but using a PO Box has newbie written all over it because it looks like you don’t have a physical business address, even if you do. There are a few affordable solutions. One is the UPS Store which operates much like a post office but they give you a real address with a “suite number.”
It’s much more professional for a few more bucks per year. If you are looking for the benefit of a real address and also want to get out of the house, you can spend a few more dollars and rent a “virtual office” from one of those office suite companies like Regus or others.
For a few hundred bucks per month, you can get a mailing address and use of their conference room for meetings (no more meetings at coffee shops that have free wifi). You can also go the expensive but lucrative route like we did.
We purchased an office building and leased it out to small businesses like ours. We rent a small office from ourselves in the building and now have a professional environment to work in and a cash flowing investment on top of it.
To take a line from my wife’s favorite Broadway show (Wicked): “It’s not about Aptitude, it’s the Way your Viewed.”
Like it or not, image matters and it effects the way people do business with you including your tenants. It doesn’t cost much to create an image of a big business when you get started in real estate and the return you get on your investment is well worth it.
I bet I missed a few services, so if you read this far, post one of your favorites! Do you use any of the ones I mentioned? What has your experience been?
Thanks for reading and have a profitable week!