Trying to fill a vacancy- What am I doing wrong?

9 Replies

I bought my first property last year, and this is my first time trying to fill a vacant unit. I listed the 3-bedroom unit for rent over a month ago. I think it's priced appropriately, and I posted it a number of places online. I get, on average, 5 messages every day from people who are "interested". We've had 12 people scheduled for group showings, but only 5 have showed up. Of those 5, 3 have filled out applications, and I've approved 2 of them. Both people who were "approved" then failed to come up with the security deposit. What am I doing wrong here? I know it's a bad time of year to fill a vacancy, but is it normal to have this much trouble? I've already lowered the price once and it seemed to make no difference in the amount of interest. I'm getting very nervous, as this property is a triplex and we're renovating another unit, so 2/3 units are vacant right now, and I'm paying electric bills for both of those to keep pipes from freezing. I'm just looking for any advice or encouragement from more experienced landlords. Thanks!

@Emily McCabe Can you provide link(s) to where you have posted the unit for rent online?  It's hard to give advice without seeming how you're marketing the property.  As for "is it normal?" I'd say that it's entirely normal to have issues renting a 3 bedroom unit around the holidays.  Three bedrooms generally means "families" and unless they're getting evicted a lot of families will be focused on Christmas presents, staying inside to keep warm, etc.  If I'm a 25 year old single guy looking for a 1 bedroom, who cares about the weather?  I probably have some frat bros to help me load the moving truck and we can chow down on some pizza after.  I'm making things up but it's a little different than saying: "Now that Dick and Jane are done opening their Christmas presents, let's bundle them up in 5 layers and head to a group showing."  

One thing I think I'd do in your situation is keep marketing and offer two group showings in a week.  See which one they want to RSVP to.  If they miss the first one, they know there will be a second one.  It's something that I started doing with my "day job".  If you're getting 5 people a day that's 35 a week, if 25% of them show up to one of the group showings that's 9 addentees and if 60% fill out an application and  you approve 66% of the applicants, that's 3.5 people a week that should be asked to come up with the security deposit. 

@Andrew Johnson you're right about the holidays, and I'll try doing 2 group showings per week and see if that helps. Thanks! One problem I've had is that a huge number of people who have contacted me have pets, and I'm not allowing pets. I guess they don't bother to read the ad. Here is the link to my Zillow posting:

Any criticism of my listing would be appreciated as well :)

Emily, fire me an email (looks like yours isn’t in your profile) & I’ll send you an article I wrote that I think may help you.

@Emily McCabe Well you might have hit the nail on the head.  I know that when I first bought my apartment (out of state) I told my property manager "I don't want pets!"  Her response was that I could do that but it would take a lot longer to fill any vacant units.  The middle ground, of course, is to allow things like small unders under __ pounds excluding breeds, such as _______.  You take a pet deposit and move on with life.  

That said, while I think your pictures are solid you do realize that there's nothing with the exterior of the building.  So if I'm a renter there's no sense of 'curb appeal'.  Your listing has "on street" parking but there's on picture of the street.  If it's a street with plenty of parking it wouldn't hurt to see that.  Or at least a view of the front of the property that shows cars aren't stacked up on each other.  And, not for nothing, but with no exterior picture you could also have prospective tenants driving right by your 'open house'.  But I'm guessing you have signs and a big ol' bouquet of balloons!

And, not to nitpick, but while you mentioned washer/dryer in the text of the listing the "Laundry" section says "No Data".  If I'm a family with a couple of kids, you'd better believe I'd prefer to have a washer/dryer.  I've never been a "tenant" but if there's a filter somewhere for "Laundry" and you have "No Data", will it show up in their search?  It also says "No Data" for heating and cooling... 

@Andrew Johnson I hadn't noticed that about the laundry section, I will update right away.. Can't believe I missed that. I originally had a picture of the exterior, but I took it down. The building is a house that was split into 3 apartments, and when I had it up, almost every single person who contacted me thought I was renting out an entire house. This is the building:

Maybe I need to put that picture back up, and change the description to make it VERY clear that it's an apartment. 

As for the pets.. I think you're right, I think we are narrowing our tenant pool too much. My husband is dead-set against pets because he doesn't want calls from the other tenants about dogs barking, and he doesn't want the floors destroyed by cat pee. But we might have to re-visit the issue. Thanks again for the help

The interior pics did not look too bad. I have not checked your market rate. Plus, I did not see your deposit amount. 

That said, my thoughts are (1) you are getting a lot of interest; (2) no one is signing up. 

This tells me the price and location are of interest but (my guess) something about the unit or showing process is giving them cold feet or that they think it is an entire house.

My guess (with your clue about folks thinking it is a single family home...): there is a disconnect between what they want and what they are seeing. It could be as complicated as some design issues or as simple as gearing their expectations and altering your marketing.

I do see it is not a traditional triplex but converted. So on a showing---how is the parking, how are the entrances configured, the utilities metered, own laundry. Are the rooms and units distinct or do people have to walk past each other in the hall? 

I would also guess a tenant could feel they are getting "part of a house" rather than an individual, self contained, individualized private unit.  And this may be where the disconnect is: between expectations and the reality in the showing.

Anything you could do to further that message (you have individual units in a traditional looking home) would help. Or anything to further that in the design (be it assigned parking, more private entrances, etc) could help.

Or another (cheaper) angle is to somehow make the marketing scream triplex/divided home. 

Can you make the add and the photos all themed thus: Classic older home in great location, cleverly divided into 3 self contained, private units.... All the comforts of a (rural?) single family home with 1/3 of the costs... etc... At least you then get folks who are open to this configuration or idea.

Best of luck.

Could not follow the rental link.

 Perhaps including a floorplan diagram would help tenants visualize the three units in the house?  (If you haven't done this already)

@Emily McCabe Can you send another link? That one didn't work for me. 

Agree with @Andrew Johnson on pets. Almost a necessity at this point. I had to change my policy on a unit I just rented, but held in place size and breed restrictions. Also asked for a non-refundable pet fee. 

Without seeing your listing, it seems odd that people would apply but then not come up with the security deposit. Are you upfront about all of the costs? Are you charging an application fee? 

With a fair amount of interest, and multiple people filling out the apps, you're doing something right. May just be getting a bit unlucky. 

I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for your help. I took into consideration every piece of advice that was posted on here, and I revised my ad, as well as decided to accept pets with an extra fee and deposit. Not only did I get the unit rented quickly after making those changes, but we just finished renovating our other vacant unit, and we got it rented in 1 day. The applicants with pets seemed to be much better qualified than the other applicants we were getting, for some reason. Thanks again to everybody for all the helpful advice!

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