8 Features That Make Your Rental Irresistible to Families

by | BiggerPockets.com

Kids are high-impact on rental properties. So why the heck would any landlord go out of their way to attract families?

First, because families tend toward longer tenancies. Young adults in their 20s move frequently, as they bounce between jobs, date around, get married, and start having children. It’s a tumultuous time.

Once they find a family home to raise their children, they often set down roots. Families—parents and children alike—tend to value stability.

If my word alone isn’t good enough, consider that from 2010-2015, only 35.2% of adults aged 40-44 and 29.7% of adults aged 45-49 moved, compared to a huge 61.2% of young adults aged 25-29.

Millennials are just now entering their prime childbearing and rearing years. They are also the largest generation and one that continues to grow (due to immigration). That makes them a huge, housing-hungry demographic of potential rentals.

Lastly, consider that renters with children grew by 14% in the period from 2009-2015, significantly faster than growth among unmarried renters (10%).

No matter how you slice it, families are a large and growing percentage of the renter population. So, how can landlords target them to secure long-term, low-turnover renters who will stay for the long haul?

Here are eight amenities to attract families and have your pick of the renting-family litter. Some can be added after buying, and others are amenities to keep an eye out for in your rental investing hunt. Many will continue adding value for decades to come.

8 Features That Make Your Rental Irresistible to Families

1. High-Quality Local Schools

Good schools are a priority for every parent. It was true 50 years ago, and it will be true 50 years from now. As you search for strong rental investment properties, keep a close eye on the quality of the local schools.

An ideal solution is a good school within walking distance. My mother rented a modest house when I was growing up, but it was in a safe neighborhood with an excellent elementary school within walking distance. The circumstances of our move were no coincidence: We stayed in that tiny home longer than any of us preferred and moved when my younger sister finished at the elementary school.

Where did we move? To a larger home, within walking distance of where I went to middle and high school.

Parents will accept smaller or otherwise imperfect homes if the schools and their proximity are right. Bear that mind as you scout prospective rental investments.

kids-money-lessons

2. Fenced-In Backyards

As with good schools, what parent doesn’t want a backyard for their kids?

Parents can send the kids out back to “go roughhouse outside,” and secure a little peace and quiet for themselves. Backyards mean yard games—and perhaps even a garden for mom or dad.

Neighborhoods with fended rear yards tend to attract lots of families, which in turn attracts more families. More children in the neighborhood means more potential friends—and more potential distractions and entertainment to keep the kids occupied.

3. The Patio & Fire Pit Combo

If backyards are primary draws for keeping the kiddos occupied, adults enjoy relaxing on a patio—perhaps with a glass of pinot noir in hand.

Patios don’t have to cost a fortune to install, either. On the low end, patios can cost under $1,000.

In most of the United States, patios can only be comfortably used five months or so of the year. But that can be extended by several months with a simple addition: a fire pit.

Nor do fire pits have to be permanently (and expensively) installed, either. You can pick up a standalone fire pit for $50-100.

We teach our students to find “hook” amenities that are inexpensive but attract prospective renters’ attention. Fire pits are a perfect example.

4. The Marriage-Saver Trinity: Washer, Dryer, Dishwasher

This should go without saying, but unless your rentals are (very) low-end, you should include a dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer.

Renters have come to expect them, and it will deter many otherwise interested prospects from your property if you fail to provide them.

If you don’t have these yet, it may be a good opportunity to differentiate your unit by buying smart home appliances that can be programmed and otherwise connected to the renters’ smartphones.

In small apartments, small stacked units are fine, and in desert climates, you may get away with skipping the dryer, but skimp on the “marriage-saver” trinity of appliances at your peril.

5. The Walkability Balance

Having amenities like grocery shopping, cafes, bars, restaurants, entertainment, playgrounds, parks, etc. within walking distance is a major draw. There’s just one problem—more walkable tends to mean higher density, which tends to mean higher traffic.

Car traffic is not ideal for young children (there’s an understatement for you). So what does the perfect family-friendly walkability look like?

Simple: The property sits comfortably on a low-traffic street, within easy walking distance of a denser, high-amenity street.

Keep this walkability balance in mind as you scout prospective properties. As the next wave of suburbanization hits over the next decade, keep a particular eye on the “surban” neighborhood trend.

6. Safety Details

Parents tend to be hyper-focused on safety, so put yourself in their shoes for a moment and look for potential hazards in your property.

The first that comes to mind is railings and balconies. How secure are they? Railings in many older homes can be loose and rickety, so spend a little extra effort to doubly secure all banisters and railings. They shouldn’t budge when shaken.

Don’t stop there, though. What else in or around the property could potentially prove hazardous for youngsters? Loose wiring? Lead paint?

Put yourself in the frantic mindset of a young parent, and look for little ways you can improve your units’ safety to “boast-able” levels. Make it a selling point!

7. Size: 3-4 Bedrooms, 2-3 Bathrooms

Homes smaller than 3 bedrooms will not keep family renters long-term. They’ll leave as soon as they can afford it or when they escape some other constraint holding them there.

On the flip side, homes larger than 4 bedrooms tend to make poor long-term rentals for a host of reasons, ranging from maintenance to the higher ratio of children to adults and the simple fact that anyone who wants to live in a 6-bedroom mansion will probably buy rather than rent.

The sweet spot? Homes with 3 or 4 bedrooms and at least 2 full bathrooms.

existing-tenants

8. Paint Flexibility

How can you keep renters longer? By giving them a sense of “ownership” and “investment” in the property.

While that argument is typically made for lease-option and rent-to-own agreements, here we’re getting even simpler—letting tenants paint the property their own colors.

With that said, landlords should put a few protections in place. A simple lease clause or addendum can work wonders, requiring the tenants to repaint in neutral colors upon move-out. Failing to do so will lead to repainting costs being deducted from the security deposit.

Landlords usually need to repaint their units upon turnover, so why not move the responsibility to the renter?

This trick can be used elsewhere too, from landscaping and gardening to interior customizations. The more a tenant feels like they’ve made the property their home, the longer they’ll stay, and the lower your turnover rate will be.

When showing the property, simply say, “By the way, if you wanted to customize the property in any way, such as painting it your own choice of colors, we’re open to working with you on that.” You’d be amazed how well prospects respond to this simple offer—because they’ve probably never heard a landlord make it before.

One of the lessons we stress over and over with our students is that turnovers are where landlords lose the most money in their returns. (See this visualization of rental cash flow for a deeper explanation.) The trick to making money as a landlord therefore is minimizing turnovers. Look for properties and neighborhoods where families will settle in long-term, and look for ways to make your existing properties that much more appealing to these long-term family renters

The reward? Higher ROI and lower labor on your rentals moving forward.

What have your experiences with family tenants been?

Comment below and let’s talk.

About Author

Brian Davis

Brian is a landlord and long-time rental industry expert, who teaches a free mini-course on passive income from small (2-4 unit) multifamily properties at SnapLandlord.com. He’s also preparing to launch a revolutionary rent deduction from payroll service.
Swing by his website, SparkRental.com, for free resources and education for landlords, rental investors, and property managers.

36 Comments

  1. Jacob Blalock

    Nice article Brian. On your point of walkability I wanted to call out sidewalks or walking paths. In the Midwest, towns are going to great lengths to brag about their trail mileage. Keep this in mind when trying to target families.

  2. Kat Horn

    Great points – and I love the fire pit tip. I have a fire pit for myself, but never thought about a few of my rental properties that could benefit from this inexpensive amenity. As far as good schools go, families are doing a lot of research online prior to ever viewing your property. Some people may have mixed feelings about the numerical ratings on GreatSchools, but many families will research online and use the GS ratings to determine in which neighborhoods to rent (wanting a GS rank of 5 or above for example). So, I advise to always check the GS rating before buying a residential rental intended for families.

  3. Martin Carstens

    Brian, always good to read your articles! I had to smile with you number two, fenced back yard. I have passed on homes, if we can not fence the backyard one hundred perecent. Any parent knows the piece of mind that it can bring with little ones. Spot on!

  4. Linda Ruth Friesen

    Thanks for the post! I a currently renting a house and the backyard is not fenced properly and there was no fire pit which are both things that would be very useful as a renter. When I get started on renting out houses I hope to make sure most of the things you mentioned are complete before someone moves in. Thanks for the tips.

  5. Mary White

    Great article, the attraction of families to a home with the right variables saved us from losing our first home in the housing crash. We had to move for work, but the property was in a highly desirable family neighborhood so we managed to ride it out with long term tenants until the market recovered. My point is that you can compete with others very effectively with the right home in the right neighborhood even in a rough market.

    Also, lots of tenants consider their pets children too. So amenities like a bike path, park and a fenced yard are important to them as well and in my experience those types of people (my pets are my children) make excellent renters.

    • Brian Davis

      Great point about pets. It’s something we recommend to our students – make your property pet-friendly, because such a high proportion of the renter population has pets. And, of course, charge accordingly, to recover the extra costs and risks that come with pets.

  6. Domenick T.

    Awesome article Brian!

    I’m with you. I own condos in urban areas and SFH’s in the suburbs. I like both, but I love the continuity of the long term tenants in the SFHs! They take a little longer to rent, but once rented, they are almost on autopilot.

    I was debating adding a fire pit at my rentals but was hesitant because of the liability. How do you deal with that? Do you add something in the lease specifying safety rules, absolving the landlord of liability, etc?

    I also want to add a fence at one of my properties but the lot is way too long and runs through dense trees. Can you suggest any alternatives?

    One more point for attracting families. I have a play set in the backyard in SFH’s. It’s a great feature that draws families with small children who tend to stay as long term tenants.

    • Brian Davis

      Great points Domenick. I’m a huge believer in using your lease to shift responsibility and liability as much as possible to tenants, and as specifically as possible.
      As for a fence alternative, you could always plant a hedge. With hedges, you typically have a trade-off between cost and time-to-maturity. So if you don’t mind waiting a few years for it to fill out, planting a hedge can be cost-effective.

  7. Scott Schultz

    a couple things here, if you are going to do a fire pit, check with the municipality about the ordinances that may prohibit this, and your insurance company, they may drop you, or have higher cost to insure with a fire pit.

    washer and dryers are great, we generally provide hook ups but not the appliances, many tenants will buy or rent to own theses happily if they can install them.

    Pant. DO NOT ALLOW your tenant to paint, 1 in 100 may do a good job, or you will end up with black and blood red, or splatter walls, even if you require approval, these people may have never painted before, and what looks like a great job to them will probably be drips, runs, and splatters on your trim, and flooring. I guess if you are slumming it, who cares, but if you have nice places they will be ruined more times than not

    • Brian Davis

      Definitely worth checking local laws and insurance rules before offering a fire pit.
      I hear you on the painting, it is a risk. But I’ve usually had to repaint between tenancies anyway, so to me it’s about trade-offs and balancing risk. It’s nice to be able to put the responsibility for repainting on the renters and their security deposit.

  8. Cathy Lippert

    I agree with another comment– do not let your tenants paint! Even returning a wall to its original neutral color will be a disaster. The cut-ins will be a mess and have to be redone at the very minimum! We have regretted it when we allowed it. However you could offer to paint one room or an accent wall a color of their choice. If you as the landlord want to offer that, and can easily accomplish that (you might want to reprint anyway), then it might give your place a differentiator.

  9. Ben Freiman

    Great article Brian. I have 2 SFH’s and both are rented to families for the low turnover reason. One signed a 2 year lease (with the intent to stay longer, but did not want to commit to anything yet) and the other I was able to talk into an 18 month lease, which ends 6/30 after school is out.

    Families can have their drawbacks (potential for kids destroying things), but in the long run they tend to stay longer and see the rental as their home and try to take better care of it.

    • Brian Davis

      Thanks Ben! And I agree, longer tenancies and lower turnover rates are absolutely critical to landlords’ ROI and property performance. I’m fond of saying “turnovers are where landlords’ returns go to die”!

  10. Mike White

    W/D are like nice kitchens and baths. I provide them in my townhomes, and I’ve had wives ask FIRST THING to see them. It’s another upgrade from the apartment they’re sick of. I generally get them cheap on Craigslist. Downside is you provide them, you get the call when they break. That’s when having a good handyman is a blessing. The downside has not been enough for me to stop providing them though.
    Its just such a great selling point (or renting point!).

  11. Jim Garcia

    For rental homes, I focus on 4-5 bedroom houses only. Families outgrow 3 bedroom houses. 6 bedrooms is too much. 4-5 bedrooms allow for an office, room for visitors to stay, or a room for the kids toys. During a downturn, you can lower the rent slightly and get a better tenant than a smaller house, which may go vacant because people will want your nicer house. Great article.

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