Ideas to fill vacancies

I hope you guys can give me some good ideas. I have a 16 unit complex that I have had for about 6 months. The first order of business was to get rid of all of the deadbeat tenants and clean up the units. After cleaning house, I now have 7 vacancies. I am having trouble filling the units now. I know the obvious answer is to lower the rent, which I will most likely do. But, I would like to know if there are any creative ideas that I can try first. I often see folks offering the first month free, but I am leery of that idea because I figure they will live there for one month and then screw me for the next month while being evicted. What other ideas have you guys used?

I’ve had a lot of people in my area ask this question to me. 9 out of 10 times the reason they can’t fill there units is because they don’t have ads in the paper. There are expensive newspapers, and free newspapers in most areas. You should definitely put the ads in the local papers that are free to the public and cheap to you. If that isn’t working after a week, then go for the big newspapers. With seven vacancies you should have ads in several different local papers, including the larger more expensive papers for your City and surrounding Cities.

What have you tried?

Without exception, I have had the best luck with a for rent good sign on the property!


I would also offer your other tenants a $100 CASH referral fee if they give you a lead that results in a new tenant moving in. I’ve had good luck with this program.


I did notify all of my tenants that I would give them $100 for referrals last week, so I am hoping to get results from that. I am currently advertising in the local free paper, but not the newspapwer classifieds. This is a low income rental, and I get the feeling that these guys don’t pick up the newspaper very often. I have pretty much decided to reduce the rent, but that puts me in a bad situation with my current tenants who are paying the higher rent. What should I do about that?

Free LCD TV with 12 month lease. Something like this ought to do it:

I don’t know about your market but $224 wouldn’t get 3 or 4 lines for 2 Sundays in my local newspaper. Not to mention if you rent is say something like $450 a month if you get it rented 2 weeks faster you break even, 3 weeks faster you’re ahead of the game. Most places rent is far over that so I’m sure you can save yourself some cash. Same rules apply with other things you can use such as free MP3 players, a few weeks free rent, etc. For the free MP3 player it doesn’t have to be a $400 Ipod, something like this will work:

I’ve heard that yard signs work rather well. At an REI meeting, they listed them at the top for sales, so I assume they work pretty well for rentals.

One thing Odd that we have found, was just being at the property. Generally when we show the property, we get 1 or 2 people actually coming to a screeching halt asking if I’m the owner, and if it is still available.

We are going to get some cheap Bandit Signs to point out ‘OPEN HOUSE ->’ and put cheap Windsocks from the Dollar Store in the yard on Sunday afternoons. Take a TV, hangout on the porch, watch some TV and wait for them to come. :beer


Thanks for all of the replies guys! I am going to try a few of these out and see what happens.

For low income units, I used to make up some flyers :

Offer employees of large employers near your location a deal - $100 off deposit, etc - or pay deposit in three installments - or pay rent direct off payroll :shocked :shocked :shocked :shocked :shocked - then take them to the HR departments. The HR at hospitals, Walmarts, factories, schools and many more are always trying to find discounts for their employees s part of their employee retention programs. They’ll pass the flyers out to their employees boxes. Add a note about a $100 finder’s fee and I bet you get tons of referrals very shortly.

Thanks Salverston, that is a really good idea. The hidden bonus there is that all of those folks have JOBS! That is one of my biggest problems, the people calling don’t have jobs.

I’ve never offered a free month’s rent, I’ve always just lowered the rent. However if you want to try advertising that, just make the free month the last month on a one year lease and that’s only if the rent is paid on time. Also craigslist is a pretty good place to advertise plus you can putting you ad together with it’ll post to a bunch of other sites.

That’s the type of offer that got me into a place years back, so I guess it works. It was $99 bucks for the second month’s rent or something like that. My wife and I used the extra money to buy furniture. :biggrin

You better be buying your rental REAL cheap if you’re going to be giving away 1 months rent with every new tenant. Even if you give away rent, you still have to advertise to get people to read that you are giving away rent.

I would never give a free months rent unless you just absolutely can not fill units.

Giving away stuff like MP3 players is great. Although I would probably never do it. But you still have to advertise to get people to know you’re giving away MP3 player.

-Sign in yard or window

-Paper (a must if you have 7 units vacant). The papers I use are not expensive. Plus you have seven units so that equals one ad.

-Call Hud or your local version and they will find you tenants if you want subsidized housing

-Always try and referrals from tenants for rentals or properties for sale. I have three properties for sale. Some of my tenants know they will get a free months rent if they have someone buy it.

F.Y.I if you don’t get the security deposit up front, you will never get it. I promise noone has ever gotten the deposit after the tenant moved into the property.

Bandit(rent) signs at every nearby intersection with directional signs. We make our own signs with fluorescent paper (cheap-looking signs suggest lower rents, bargains). Also, signs near Wal-Mart every weekend. These signs work for FSBO as well.

Use a professional sign outside the property, not one of the cheapo ones from HD. Get rid of weeds and trash and anything that makes the property look run-down. Paint the outside if it needs it. You might want to consider a Talking House transmitter. It continuously broadcasts a description of the unit to anyone within 300 feet of the property. It’s new enough in some area to generate interest just from the novelty.

These ideas, except for one, cost you nothing unless you get a renter. I pay for performance and rarely use newspaper ads.

Offer cash bounties to anyone who refers a qualified applicant that takes a unit. Start with existing tenants. I offer one month’s rent. You may or may not be able to offer less.

There are companies that specialize in placing tenants and sometimes the tenant pays. Pay extra if the LL usually pays and offer to pay a portion of the tenant’s share if the tenant usually pays. I offer a sliding scale of payment depending on the credit score. 100% if the score is over 680; 75% from 660 to 679; 50% from 630 to 659; 25% from 600 to 630.

Donate to local religious institutions if they refer a qualified applicant who takes a unit. The priest, rabbi, or whatever will make an announcement every service about your vacancy and will post your flyer on the bulletin board.

Offer to buy gift certificates from local stores if they refer a qualified applicant who takes a unit. Use mom and pop places, not large chains. I avoid bars and places where the customers are not the type of person I want as tenants. Laundromats and convenience stores are good places. Around me there is stiff competition for laundry services. If I give the gift certificates to tenants, they are more likely to use that particular place.

Check out whether your local movie theaters offer advertising on the screens. Some LLs spend several hundred dollars to run an ad for a few days. For several hundred, your ad will run before every movie for a month.

Contact local insurance companies and tell them you have units available for their insured waiting for a home to be rebuilt after damage. This won’t be a weekly rental. Some damage can take months or a year to repair.

Place your flyers in local schools and government offices. Just be sure to avoid the health, building, and legal departments. You don’t want tenants that know the law better than you or have access to attorneys who offer free advice or representation.

Contact the local large employers and tell them you have units available for employees moving to the area. Also, contact local temporary agencies. Many of them bring in talent from across the country and offer nothing in the way of relocation information.

Contact foreign embassies and tell them you have units available for their citizens that are moving to the US. Offer perks like included utilities or move-in help so that it is easy for a person unfamiliar with US customs to move-in easily.

Contact the local universities and tell them you have housing available for graduate students. Foreign ones are the best and I avoid renting to undergraduates as they require a hands-on approach I do not with to give. Offer the school a kickback if a student rents one of your units. will allow you post a free ad. I offer free, wireless broadband access in some of my units. Just raise the rent the cover the cost.

Are you an alumnus of a local university? The ones around me allow alumnae to use their email distribution lists for rental ads.

Pay for the movers or work out a deal with a particular moving company to offer discounts to your potential tenants. If your units are small, negotiate storage deals with the company for your tenants.

Once you get them to call, you need to get them to view the unit, assuming they pass your pre-screen. Just before I end the call, I tell them all people who view a unit are eligible for a drawing where they can win a gift certificate to a local restaurant. That eliminates many of the no-shows. The drawing is held after I get a new tenant.

The inside of the unit must be in “WOW” condition. All fixtures should sparkle and not a spec of dust or dirt is anywhere, including closets and cabinets. Wipe down the walls and doors. Mop the floors and clean the windows. Don’t forget mirrors if you have them.

The bathroom, including the toilet, is extra clean. Keep some TP and towels in the bathroom and some furniture in the rooms. Don’t clutter the place. Make it look homey and keep on all the lights, even the ones in closets.

Have a table and chairs set up so that applicants can fill out the application there. Keep a phone book handy so that they can look up numbers, if needed. You should have a list of the major vendors in your area for utilities so that it is easy for the tenant to change over and have a sheet with information like emergency numbers, trash day, parking information, and city ordinances on snow removal and emergency parking.

If they won’t fill out the application there, get as much contact information as you can so that you can follow up with them. The drawing helps here because they must give you good information so that you can contact them if they win. Give them a brochure that shows how your units are better than the competition. You may want to consider novelty items like pens and magnets that have your contact information on them. Tenants will use them and be more inclined to call the person that gave them something. It’s real easy for them when they can read the phone number off the pen they are using. Don’t forget to tell them about your referral policy. They are more likely to send you a renter if they will get something out of it.

Wow, excellent ideas BLL. I’ll have to add some of these to my repertoire.


Do you have examples of what makes a professional sign or places to get one? Where does one find the transmitter? I’ve never even heard of that one before.

BTW - those are some great low/no cost ideas!

Professional sign from a sign maker. Look in the phone book, there are lots around.