If You Can’t Rent To the One You Love, Love the One You Rent To.
Ask any successful entrepreneur who has been in business for more than a couple of years, and they’ll tell you: it’s cheaper and easier to keep an existing client than it is to find a new one. The same applies to tenants (they are actually clients) — if you have a tenant that you like, it just plain makes good business sense to invest your time and energy into keeping them.
Great relationships with your tenants may take a bit of effort, but it’s less effort than it will take and cost to find a new one.
It’s often seemingly out of your control: tenants move for all kinds of reasons, many of them having nothing to do with you. But at the same time, every move is a pain in the butt, and the more comfortable your tenants are, the less inclined they’ll be to go through the effort. A large part of that comfort is physical — based on the attributes of the building — but it’s important to realize that as much if not more of their comfort is psychological. It’s based on how much they believe that you have their best interests at heart.
When your tenant calls, answer the phone. They don’t call you in order to make your life miserable — they call you because you’re the resource they have on hand to deal with certain problems, and helping them is part of your job. If they leave a message, call back promptly. If they text you, text back. Ditto email. The simple act of responding to their outreach will go a long way toward building their confidence in you.
If you encounter a situation that isn’t covered by your lease agreement and should be, change your lease agreement promptly, and ask them to sign the new agreement acknowledging the change. Other than that, you should be able to abide by your agreement under all circumstances. If your lease agreement mentions something variable (like revocable grace periods) and you need to make the change in order to provoke the correct behavior (in this case, paying rent when it’s due and not when the grace period is up), do so clearly and either face-to-face or over the phone. Don’t count on text, email, or other “absentee communication” to get the job done.
If a tenant calls you with a problem in the middle of the night — and they will — let them know exactly when you’ll be able to do something about it, and then be there right when you said you would be. If you can’t be there, call them and let them know why not, and then tell them when they can expect you, and don’t change the timing on them again. If they have an emergency, always respond immediately, no matter what your condition — it’s moments like these that will make you go from ‘the landlord’ to ‘that awesome fellow who saved my collection of Jimmy Hendrix posters from the flooding basement.’ You want that.
Reward Tenants for Good Behavior
Many landlords think that good behavior is (and should be) the automatic normal, with no reward necessary (but plenty of punishment on hand if things go south.) This is just silly thinking. If you want someone to act in a certain way, you have to incentivize that person to do so. For example, you can offer a 5% discount on rent for those who pay for 6 or 12 months in a row on time, and keep it going until they pay late. Or if a tenant contacts you wanting to install some sort of device that would add value to the home even after they leave, like motion detectors or programmable thermostats, you can offer to split the cost with them — that will encourage them to continue thinking of things they can do to improve the property, and those improvements will still be there after they leave.
Offer Lease Renewal Gifts
We’ve covered this in a previous post, but it’s definitely worth mentioning again. Be sure to communicate the offer of a lease renewal gift with your tenants before they start to think about moving. Once they make the decision to move, it’s hard to get them to change their minds. As we previously wrote, the gift should be something that improves the tenants enjoyment of your property and stays when they leave.
Not every tenant will stay for years, even if you are good to them — but you’ll find yourself with a much longer average tenancy and significantly fewer problem tenants if you can improve your relationship-building skills. It’s well worth the effort.