Web sites used to reduce time investment in rentals, do they work?

44 Replies

I have been getting busier and busier so I have started working on a web site to reduce the time required.  From looking on here this is what I have come up with so far:  This site is full of great information.

tenant emails a craigslist ad and gets an auto response directing them to our web site and to fill out a form to schedule a showing,  this form also pre screens the tenants, asks income, eviction, criminal,  questions ect.

my yard signs will also direct people to our web site and each house has a google voice number with the property details and again directs them to the web site.

  once on the web site it directs you to the same form as that we send you  from the initial email if your coming from craigslist.  If you do not meet my initial screening requirements you are directed to a denial page .if you make it past the pre screen once the form is submitted another auto email goes out that goes over my screening requirements again and also directs them to my online scheduler where they pick 3 days and or times that work for their schedule.  I then get an email to confirm which meeting I would like. 

I will be putting my application on line and collect application fees there as well.

We are also going to switch to erentpayments.com to collect the rent and the tenants are able to pay from my web site.

My goal here is to reduce my time invested down to showing only qualified tenants the property and do the actual screening of the tenant.

Has any one done this before?

what are the down sides to this?

will it scare away good tenants or just the bad ones which is the purpose.

What things am I missing?

After I get the kinks worked out on this I want to move on to phase 2 of my site,   where tenants can request repairs.  Initialy this will all just go to me to contact the correct person but down the road I would like to make it so that the tenant selects what type of repair is needed, tells the issue and then when they submit the repair request a WO goes to the correct repair person, ie the plumber, electrician, handyman, me ect. 

Again has any one done this before?

what am I missing as to the down side?

I usually have decent tenants and my quality of tenant has gone up a lot since I have gotten better as screening. My first ones were horrible,  thanks to all of you I have gotten better.   I also charge my tenants a $50 service call for repairs that as long as its not due to tenant damage gets refunded to them so I don't think I would have much of an issue with regards to unnecessary repair requests.  Contrary to popular belief doors just don't fall off hinges and windows done just magically break :-)

thoughts and feed back are appericated

I think unless you are in an incredibly hot market offering a home for lower then the competition this many hurdles will lead to longer vacancy.

I am not opposed to hurdles to screen out the unmotivated ones but this is a large amount of hoops that will definitely lead to decreased demand.

It is a trade off.

Your life is easier & you have much more time

But

Your rentals will be empty longer.

James Wise, Real Estate Agent in OH (#2015001161)

would getting rid of the need to go to my web site help? ie in the initial email back to the prospective tenant it included the pre screening questionnaire thus removing one email?  I was using the steps to try and weed out the bad renters but at the same time I know I don't want to make it too complicated and lose out on a good one.

oh one other thing the emails are automatic as Im not invloved so while the prospective tenant is at their computer looking at possible rentals they get the emails immediately the entire process takes less than 5 min to have a showing scheduled.  where as the old way I did it we would email back and forth over a couple of hours and or days to get the screening completed and a showing scheduled.

I have people text me info. Name, desired move in date, income, pet info etc.

Some do some don't. The idea when I started it was if they don't text they don't follow directions so they are not going to be good tenants but that was not always true. Some people just didn't text and were good tenants.

James Wise, Real Estate Agent in OH (#2015001161)

Why don't you try one of the PM managment software companies like Propertyware, Appfolio or Buildum? They do all of those things and give you a website. We use Propertyware and we use Rently. With Rently prospects can set their own appointments and show the property themselves.

Unless it was the norm for finding a place to live, I think this approach would likely turn off many good prospective tenants. So many hoops! Reminds me of the telephone phone trees.... where the customer in exasperation finally cries out for "Live Person!" or presses zero multiple times. Also, this gives me the impression your whole operation would be so automated that the human element would suffer. 

It would appeal to only a small percentage of the market. Especially unappealing or unattainable for some of the older crowd who may not be as computer savvy and comfortable on-line as those who grew up doing things on-line. The antisocial folks would like it I suppose as no need to talk to a human until the showing. But who will be at the showing? Rosie from the Jetsons? 

Personally, I like the interaction I have with people during the telephone screening. I find out boatloads of information quickly from these real time conversations and most of the bad apples don't even call because we are up front about our rental criteria. However, for some landlords and some tenants, this set up could be ideal, barring any unforeseen problems on either end.

Originally posted by @Kevin Page:

Why don't you try one of the PM managment software companies like Propertyware, Appfolio or Buildum? They do all of those things and give you a website. We use Propertyware and we use Rently. With Rently prospects can set their own appointments and show the property themselves.

I had never really looked into them.  I will take a look at some of them for some ideas thanks for the suggestion.   I know I appreciate people / companies that I can use technology with, as I can use it early morning before I start work for the day.  I notice that the consensus is that its not a good idea and I would lose tenants.  what if every thing was completed off one email?  I guess I could get rid of the 3 email process. 

I don't have time to talk on the phone to 10 people calling about my houses each day so Most of my tenants come from craigslist as I hate yard signs for that reason. Here is my typical process:  they email me about a property, I answer their questions and then ask my own (first email), they email back half of what I asked for so I ask for my other information (second email) they email back the rest of the info.  I email them to set up a showing (3rd email)  they email me back when they can meet then I email them to confirm that that time dose work, 4th email, and then I get 50% no shows

What are the ways that you guys use to stream line your rental process if that's is too complicated for the acerage renter

Originally posted by @Ryan Scritchlow :

I don't have time to talk on the phone to 10 people calling about my houses each day so Most of my tenants come from craigslist as I hate yard signs for that reason. Here is my typical process:  they email me about a property, I answer their questions and then ask my own (first email), they email back half of what I asked for so I ask for my other information (second email) they email back the rest of the info.  I email them to set up a showing (3rd email)  they email me back when they can meet then I email them to confirm that that time dose work, 4th email, and then I get 50% no shows

What are the ways that you guys use to stream line your rental process if that's is too complicated for the acerage renter

If you don't have time to talk on the phone, how do you find the time to email back and forth 4 times? We advertise on Craigslist and take calls from 8am - 8pm. It takes me no more than 5 minutes for me to do preliminary screen by phone and up to 30 minutes for the full interview, which I only do with those who pass the first 8 screening questions. I only show to those who pass the interview and almost never have a no show. Our Rental Criteria and Tenant Screening Questions are available under the BP Resources Tab - File Place - Other Documents.  In 2014 we found all of our tenants within two days and moved them in within a week or two. 

By using the phone I hear much more than the words prospective tenants speak... I hear the screaming kids in the background... the dog barking... the smoker's voice... and attitude.  People spill the beans when you are a good conversationalist and good at drawing out information. If I select well, then we will have fewer turnovers and thus not have to go through the whole process very often!

I do all of  my emailing after work or before work ie early morning 4 to 630am or after 9 pm at night.  This tends to prolong the process and I have lost out on tenants due to that.   so that's why I was leaning towards automation via a web site.  I completely understand what you can screen out via a phone interview but They just do not work for me during the work day while trying to manage multiple crews on multiple sites and deal with customers.   I run a landscaping and construction company and am building my rentals as my retirement and they provide me with the cash flow for each of my next property purchases until I get it off of the ground and it self supports.  So management is not an option for me as I need ever penny some times.  I am breaking ground on a mini storage property in May so that was another reason why I wanted an automated process which I would be able to expand to my mini storage units after I get the bugs worked out.  I know this may not be idea for every one and do understand that.  Im just trying to tap into every ones experience to see how I can tweek my process to lose as little in the way of qualified tenants while blocking out the bad ones automatically.

Originally posted by @Ryan Scritchlow :

I don't have time to talk on the phone to 10 people calling about my houses each day so Most of my tenants come from craigslist as I hate yard signs for that reason. Here is my typical process:  they email me about a property, I answer their questions and then ask my own (first email), they email back half of what I asked for so I ask for my other information (second email) they email back the rest of the info.  I email them to set up a showing (3rd email)  they email me back when they can meet then I email them to confirm that that time dose work, 4th email, and then I get 50% no shows

It sounds like you need to fix your current process.  Unless you've got 50+ units, a website like what you're describing is going to take way more time and effort to build out than actually dealing with prospective tenants.  If you have tenants emailing you with questions, then your CL ad is not robust enough.  If you're asking them questions, then why not put those directly in the CL ad and say "please respond with the following:".  Putting a lot of time and effort into automating everything will make the process cold and will scare away most of your potential renters and will likely be a lot more work than actually interacting with them.

We have the tenant criteria on our website and when they call we screen them so they know up front what is required to be our tenant.  With Rently they can set up their own appointment. No need to meet them at the property. Other alternative is to hire an agent or employee to handle the rental process. Just sub out the process and save yourself all that time. How many vacancies do you fill on a monthly basis? Sounds like you have a lot. 

I do it on a much smaller scale. http://www.biggerpockets.com/forums/52/topics/1256...

More to help with the screening process but as others have posted, a complex website like you've described will take some management time as well building it and you won't necessarily know it its not working properly and you're missing out on tenants, etc. Most people surf from their phones these days, so you'd have to make it mobil friendly if you're going to rely on it to do all of your business for you. Sounds interesting. Let us know how it works out.

I would agree that I need to fix my process.  My average tenant stays 18 months right now my problem is due to my schedule it usually takes me about 2 to 2.5 months to fill a vacancy as its hard to find the time and what ends up happening is I don't have time to do a proper pre screening, get stood up half the time, then I get frustrated and go into Ill get it rented when I have time mode which doesn't do me any good and pro longs the process.  I shouldn't sit vacant that long in our market and at my price points.   this is why I wanted to automate as much as possible. The site is all ready built and is functional if you email in off of craigslist.  Im building new pre screening forms in the evenings in stead of the standard drop in ones in order to by able to control my data more and fully automate as I'm having issues when the incoming address dose not match the reply too address. like emails from Tulia and craigslist.  I have not even had time to spell check my site as I'm a horrible speller but   In the past 72 hours since I have done some test ads (4 ads 2 on craigslist 2 else where to test emails and forms)  I have had 10 emails come in, 4 people fill out the prescreen form and one person set up a showing. 

I would be willing to show my site so long as everyone agrees not to comment on gramidical and spelling errors

We are very busy! I work full time plus and run 9 units (11 if you count a deployed friends). I find that "answering" the phone has been key. Do you have a wife or a friend who would be willing to open the door. For us the most time consuming part has been tenant install. After that we are golden! All rent is direct deposited into our account.

Is the self-storage units yours? What about having that manager who you already have to pay do alot of the screening and setting up the appointments. Than you won't lose the human element and you already have someone on staff. We do all our showing every 15 minute, have the leases and a copy of our criteria right there. I use buildium, although I do need to use them more for the accounting. The tenants txt me the email and than they complete everything online minus their paystubs and drivers license.

I understand where you are coming from. We operate 3k miles away from 3 of our properties so we have had to work the human element along with the digital to be successful.

The self storage is mine.  The first building is only 30 units and Im installing a kiosk to handle sign ups on site in addition to the web site and ill have to spend more of my time there so Im looking at moving my office to that site as well as we build more buildings to keep a better eye on that project which is why Id like to free up some more time on my rentals through automation.  Long term your completely correct the staff at the mini storage will be able to run my rentals for me but until I get the mini storage off the ground to the point of paying the new staff person I get to add to my all ready crazy work load.

It sounds like your time and expertise is indeed better spent on your other projects with your landscaping and construction business. Instead of turning heavily toward automation, you may do better by outsourcing. Or a combination of the two. It would cost you less to hire the services of a good leasing agent than it would to lose two months rent. You are not only losing two months rent while a unit is empty, you are also paying for utilities and increasing the risk of your property being vandalized.

What does leasing up a unit entail? When we have a vacancy, my husband is always chomping at the bit to get the ad posted on line. I must remind him that once the ad is placed, we must be available to take the calls and do tenant screening. We both work full-time with our careers, so we must schedule time for this. Next we need to schedule showings. Once we have a good prospect, then we must have the time, during business hours, to do the reference checks and background checks. Once we have selected a tenant and they have accepted our offer to rent, then we must take the time to put together the contract, the move-in information packet, and the bag/bucket of move-in gifts. Then we need to schedule the time for the move-in process, which for us means a two-hour appointment... to sign contracts, demonstrate how things operate and complete the move-in condition report with the tenant.  

Leasing up a unit takes considerable time and expertise. There are many steps, not all of which can be automated. So it is money well spent if you can find a good leasing agent. If we have a vacation scheduled or experience a family emergency, instead of waiting until a time which is better for us, we just turn over the tasks to our property assistant or a leasing agent. Once you have your storage facility up and running with staff, you can cross train your staff to handle some if not all of these tasks, as @Elizabeth Colegrove suggests.

here you guys are as it sits currently before I move it over to its actual domain

http://rscritch.wix.com/rental-site

I have never looked into that before  I will ask a couple of the realtors that I work with and see what it would cost.

Originally posted by @Ryan Scritchlow :

here you guys are as it sits currently before I move it over to its actual domain

http://rscritch.wix.com/rental-site

That looks really good! You could be very successful with this approach. If it is a match for your needs and the needs of your market, my hat's off to you!

Thanks, wix makes building sites very simple so most of the credit goes to them as they have great integration of out side products which makes it very easy. I still need to get the forms converted over to Google forms to correct some automation issues I'm having but all in all I'm pretty pleased so far with the results. Any thoughts on ways to improve in it let me know.  Now that we re past the do I do it or not stage  I'd like to make it as easy to use as possible. 

That's a nice site. I loved working with Wix. You could probably do without the flow chart of the screening process but your check lists are good. You could probably just list all of your "terms and conditions" (rental requirements) under the last check box and make them say Yes or No to whether or not they agree with your terms and conditions before allowing them to request a showing. Let us know how the automation of it all goes. I'm still small time but planning to expand a bit this year so it would be nice to be able to expand my site to accommodate the automated processes.

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