First Time Using Rental Agents in Boston as a Landlord

14 Replies

Hey guys,

I've been wrapping up the work my place needed and have been testing the waters with getting it rented. Thus far, I've been posting on craigslist, but quickly found that my time was being wasted by a lot of tire-kickers and people who weren't qualified. I tried a bunch of variations of my listing, some being more explicit about my criteria, but generally wasn't successful in finding people who met my pretty reasonable renting standards.

I've since enlisted a few rental agents in the search. I'm working with three right now and I wondered if there is any trick to this process? I have given them all the same information and if I change information (such as going half security), I plan on notifying all of them of the change so that the apartment is always consistently listed.

Are there any tips or tricks to helping get your place rented more quickly in the off-season? Do most people list with one agent and then let them syndicate it on MLS or am I better off spreading out and working with multiple agents directly? Is picking up the agent's fee really going to make a huge difference to finding solid tenants?

Really looking forward to your feedback,

Beau

Hey Beau!

So this is from my experience because I was a rental agent in Boston. 

What you suggested is done my many different landlords and the success rate usually varies as well. If you give an exclusive to just one agent, that agent can then syndicate it out on the MLS and greatly expand his advertising base,which in turn has many added benefits to the people looking at apartments. Because if you give an exclusivity agreement it means that that agent can freely disclose the address without fear of other agents in the city trying to poach that listing for themselves(Happens far too often). If you syndicate it out to a bunch of agents they will just blast the same information every other one will have aon all the usual websites Cragslist, zillow, postlets... The bonus to this is that you have more agents fighting for your property and to show off so that in hopes of one day getting the exclusive from you. The negative side to this is the exact opposite of the positive, in that they know they don't have an exclusive with you and other agents have it so it might not be on their priority show sheet.

It is from here you need to decide what approach you would like to take,as far as paying the fee to the company, It has ALWAYS made a unit more marketable when a landlord is willing to pay the fee. (You can write it off in taxes, but i am not an accountant so i won't dive further on that one). Think about it from a renters point of view if you are looking for a place and all of the places are the same but this one place allows you to save an entire months rent, that is what entices most of the renters to your unit.  Most landlords actually bill the fee into the rent through the year if they end up paying for it. You can have two separate prices, or billing practices work out with your list agents:

If landlord pays the fee:

First-1200

Last- 1200

Sec-1200

If landlord DOESN'T pay the fee:

First-1100

Last- 1100

Sec-1100

These are random rough numbers i just made up so i haven't done the math to see if it works out, but you get the gist. I know this was long-winded and random. Feel free to ask away, I love helping people on both sides (landlords and renters). IMHO I have seen far too many unscrupulous agents ruin it for the rest of us just because all they could see what that next commission.

@Dennis Hernandez  Thank you very much for the reply!

Nobody that I've worked with (yet) has struck me as particularly unscrupulous, but it just seems like this process is akin to dragging a dog for a walk on a rainy day. I feel like little progress is being made. Perhaps that's my own anxiety speaking, but given the relatively few showings that seems to be reflected at least in part in reality.

If I choose to go exclusive with an agent, do you have any recommendations on picking one in particular? What should I be looking for? Most importantly, what can I expect from an exclusive agreement -- are they going to be more responsive / keep me in the loop more? 

From my overview of the Boston scene, it seems as though there are a few very large rental agencies out there. Most of them seem to operate in Allston / Brighton just due to the huge volume of young professionals and students in that area. Given my units are NOT in that area, am I better served looking at a smaller agency more local to the area?

In terms of paying or splitting the fee, I'm open to it as an option. As a long-time renter in Boston, I know that most people moving in May or September are used to picking up the rental fee, but I guess that isn't the case during the off-season.

Sorry for the flood of questions, but as you can see this entire process has been a learning experience for me!

Originally posted by @Beau Blinder :

@Dennis Hernandez  Thank you very much for the reply!

Nobody that I've worked with (yet) has struck me as particularly unscrupulous, but it just seems like this process is akin to dragging a dog for a walk on a rainy day. I feel like little progress is being made. Perhaps that's my own anxiety speaking, but given the relatively few showings that seems to be reflected at least in part in reality.

If I choose to go exclusive with an agent, do you have any recommendations on picking one in particular? What should I be looking for? Most importantly, what can I expect from an exclusive agreement -- are they going to be more responsive / keep me in the loop more? 

From my overview of the Boston scene, it seems as though there are a few very large rental agencies out there. Most of them seem to operate in Allston / Brighton just due to the huge volume of young professionals and students in that area. Given my units are NOT in that area, am I better served looking at a smaller agency more local to the area?

In terms of paying or splitting the fee, I'm open to it as an option. As a long-time renter in Boston, I know that most people moving in May or September are used to picking up the rental fee, but I guess that isn't the case during the off-season.

Sorry for the flood of questions, but as you can see this entire process has been a learning experience for me!

 I've been a leasing agent for over 6 years in Allston (3 companies, 50+ agents), servicing anywhere in Boston proper. Where are you properties? This makes a big difference. The higher the demand, the less chance you need to pay a fee. However, while the hot areas of the city have usually been clients paying the fee.. this past september showed a surplus of inventory and much more vacancy than years past. Basically, if your listing is in a lower demand area and during this slow fall season for renters, I would recommend paying the fee. Most agencies use yougotlistings so if you give one agency the exclusive its still ok because with that listings database they can blast it out to all over offices using ygl. To be honest a lot of offices outside the city don't know a thing about leasing. And for every good leasing agent there's 10 that are clueless (because they will literally give the job to anyone breathing with a license). Find a good office specializing in leasing and go from there. A good enough office will know how to get the word out to all offices, giving you the best of both worlds.

From my experience in renting places in Boston (This is in Brighton) the agents generally don't bring a lot of added value.

I don't think that MLS is that useful for apartments here. I am actually an agent and don't bother putting my own place on the MLS when I rent it (Not worth paying the broker a split for the exposure).

Most agents just copy your Craigslist ads and hope the renters contract them and then they will get in touch with you.  That being said I always tell agents I am happy to work with them if they bring in qualified renters.  The upshot is that they do some pre-screening for you and will run credit and background checks as part of the service (They can charge back the tenants if they want and deal with that being illegal if they want...).  In these cases the renter is on the hook to pay it but I always offer to pay or at least split if they bring me someone good, since that is by far the most important thing.

As far as what I do to advertise it is mostly Craigslist.  I do usually do a Postlet as well which is a nice online flyer and will automatically syndicate to all the other big sites.  Not sure if you are just getting lousy applicants that you aren't showing the place to or are doing showings them realizing they aren't very good.  If it is the 2nd case then what I usually do is set 2 blocks of 1-2 hours I am willing to do showings in a given week and the first reasonable candidate that I talk to gets to set the first window and then I push everyone into that until I get a good one that can't make it and then let them set the 2nd one.  Usually push to get them all in a 1 hour slot but will work the fringes as long as my schedule allows it.  Try to set the appointments 5-10min apart but if someone can only set it for the same time as someone else then they just come at the same time.  I want to have people know there is a lot of interest.  Usually on the day of my standard of who I will show it do does go down since I will be there anyway and once I did actually get a great resident that MIGHT not have cut the mustard on the initial screen.

Good Luck!

Medium rre logo web rgb w motoShaun Reilly MBA, Reilly Real Estate, LLC | [email protected] | 1‑800‑774‑0737 | http://www.MassHomeSale.com | MA Agent # 9517670 | Podcast Guest on Show #43

@Beau Blinder It's no problem. This is a very stressful time of the year for all landlords, especially when there is a vacancy, which means you are hemorrhaging money monthly.

Honestly the level of service you get from going exclusive will completely depend on the agent in question. You should be getting more updates, from monthly to weekly, and in the case of showings but no one biting, the agent should be on his/her game and giving you recommendations on what to do as far as pricing, amenities, updates, etc... For example i had a land lord in East Boston once who went vacant after she had to evict her tenant. She was vacant or a few months and i caught her at the right time and had a long conversation with her about what needed to be done to her unit to make it more friendly to renters. The biggest selling point was to rip up the old stinky carpets and refinish the gorgeous oak floors underneath. Long story short, she didn't have to drop her rent and put a few thousand into updating the place a bit and rented it out immediately.

 You should have this kind of an honest open relationship with your agent. It should be one where you know you will be providing each other with business for years to come, so if you cant really stand talking to the person for too long or if they seem too much like a salesman you probably dont want to deal with them for very long. Talk to them on the phone and meet up with them for coffee, they can then lay out what they can do for your unit. A good agent will have their ear to the ground and know what the local renters are looking for and will take note of it when they are on showings and the clients make comments about what they liked and didnt like and then feed that information to the landlord. 

I don't want to pitch you, but if you want i have a few friends across a few different companies in the city that i can recommend you to, and can provide exactly what you want. if not no big deal, I can just be here and be your sound board and help you figure out what you need.

Bottom line is if you choose to not pay any fee, it costs you nothing to list on mls and/or through multiple agencies. To me there is no downside there.. you will get more potential leads for clients for free. And you can also advertise yourself as no fee. As others mentioned, postlets is great and syndicates to multiple other websites. Also recommend daily posting/renewing on craigslist

I recommend finding one good exclusive agent vs several agents that know they don't have the exclusive listing.

Medium rgc adams team logoRobert Adams, The Adams Team at Rothwell Gornt Co. | [email protected] | 702‑349‑9175 | http://www.LVrealestateHELP.com | NV Agent # 62827, MA Agent # 9530304 , RI Agent # 18138

@Beau Blinder , I am totally with @Shaun Reilly on this.  Pretty much everything he said, I also do the same way, except that I intentionally schedule everyone at the same time.  It makes the tenants know that there are multiple people interested and if they are interested, they need to react quickly.

I use Craigslist and Postlets exclusively, and never use an agent.  If an agent calls me and asks if I'll pay a fee if they bring me a good applicant, of course I say yes, but it has never happened.  Maybe if my units were in Boston it would be different.  My market in NH is different than yours, but the principle is still the same.  

I actively phone screen, including asking income so I don't waste their time if they don't qualify.  (or mine, which is actually more to the point)   You can legally screen for bad attitude, so I frequently will decline to show on that basis alone.

Your biggest issue right now is that very few people (comparatively) are looking for units at this time of year, you are coming up to the holidays by the time you process the application and they give their notice.  If they need to move by 11/1, that is a red flag, try to find the underlying reason.  It's also tough to rent in January, who wants to move in a snowstorm?

I have been through this multiple times at this time of year.  Having a vacancy always makes me anxious, but from experience, I know it's the time of year that is the problem, not me, and not my units.  Grit your teeth and stick to your screening.  

An empty unit is far less expensive than a bad tenant.  Keep repeating that to yourself.  Even if you haven't learned that from experience yet, many others already have, so believe that it is true.  Screening for good tenants is by far the most important part of rental units.  More important that what you provide in the unit, or even the location.  Good unit and location will give you more applicants to choose from but a bad tenant will turn you into a motivated seller.  Screen, screen, screen.  

I haven't addressed your questions about rental agents, since I don't use them, but I hope I've given helpful information.

Medium small logoAnn Bellamy, Buy Now, LLC | 800‑418‑0081 | http://www.buynowhardmoney.com | Podcast Guest on Show #9

Oh, and one more thing:  Make sure your rent is competitive for the area - that can also be a reason you are getting few inquiries.  Go to see the units in the immediate area that are approximately the same size and number of BRs as yours.

Medium small logoAnn Bellamy, Buy Now, LLC | 800‑418‑0081 | http://www.buynowhardmoney.com | Podcast Guest on Show #9

Hey Beau.....for the Boston area....especially if it is North Shore...I recommend Chad Myers (781) 656-5037.  He is a really good agent who specializes in rentals.

Medium logo lf re cire box white bboxRussell Brazil, Associate Broker w/ Long & Foster | [email protected] | (301) 893‑4635 | http://www.RussellBrazil.com | MD Agent # 648402, DC Agent # SP98375353, VA Agent # 0225219736, MA Agent # 9052346 | Podcast Guest on Show #192

@Ann Bellamy  thank you for the advice! I'm not looking to dump anyone in the unit, even if it "costs" me up front. I've seen how difficult it can be to remove bad tenants from a property and I have no interest in going down that route.

I don't think I would ever consider using an agent anywhere else, but in Boston it's such a tried and true method for finding a place. Most people that I know who have rented in the off-season have relied on agents to find them a good place which is why I've been thinking about going that route.

I've seen a few places nearby and I think that my rent is right in line with the rest of the market.

@Dennis Hernandez  thank you again for all your advice. I reached to you via private message about agents in Boston.

@Russell Brazil  thank you for the recommendation! I'm in Roslindale, so not on the North Shore unfortunately.

Originally posted by @Beau Blinder:

I don't think I would ever consider using an agent anywhere else, but in Boston it's such a tried and true method for finding a place. Most people that I know who have rented in the off-season have relied on agents to find them a good place which is why I've been thinking about going that route.

That is interesting as I am the exact opposite.  I never consider using an agent for ones in Boston, but I would be much more open to it for other areas where the rental community isn't as big an robust.  

Proximity will have some factor as well, if you live a few minutes away regardless of where it is you can market harder and show it easy.  If it is a 45 min drive to open a door you might get more out of just utilitarian services.

Medium rre logo web rgb w motoShaun Reilly MBA, Reilly Real Estate, LLC | [email protected] | 1‑800‑774‑0737 | http://www.MassHomeSale.com | MA Agent # 9517670 | Podcast Guest on Show #43

@Beau Blinder You started this on October 23, do you have someone to move in for November 1st? I think Boston's a competitive market but maybe December 1st...

It used to be that a Property Manager absorbed some liability but not anymore. Owner is on the hook for everything.

How much Property do you have anyway?