Before we get into the questions themselves it is very, very important to develop the proper context:
In owning a rental property, you own a business. Like any business:
You have a product – the house. Your product will need maintaining in a manner to produce the maximum revenue.
You compete for good customers – your tenant. The quality of your customer selection and revenue collection are critical to the success of your business.
Somewhat unique to this business is you only have one customer (at a time).
Understand your customer’s perspective. Your customer’s satisfaction matters. To be unaware of this is a risk to your income stream.
Your business is based in revenue and expenses – you incur expenses which are necessary to generate rental income.
Your business operates in a highly regulated environment; jurisdictionally with local ordinances; nationally with fair housing and other laws; and with the IRS.
Like all businesses, your business is subject to market risks, customer risks and regulatory compliance risks.
The quality of your decisions during the planning stage will affect the operation phase and your overall results.
The business will end ___________. (When I return to my property? Another time?) Unlike most businesses, you may know the ending date of your, may not continue in perpetuity.
Your goal in operating your business is to maximize the performance over the life of the operational phase– from when your property is first exposed to the market until you return home and the business ends- not try to maximize the first month.
You are the “CEO” of your business. You also need a “business manager”. These are two different roles. You may choose to be both CEO and business manager or hire one. Your business requires ongoing management either way. In hiring a “Property Manager”, you are hiring your “Business Manager”.
If you understand and adopt this context, you have a better understanding of what this experience is all about and will have a better plan and thus chance for success than most landlords.
Questions to Ask your Prospective Property Manager
Understand the documents – Ask for copies of the lease and management agreement prior to your meeting at the house. There are two documents that set the parameters of your rental experience:
The Lease – defines your relationship with your customer- the tenant.
Management agreement – defines your relationship with your business manager- the property manager.
Read these documents and develop a list of questions related to each. These will be valuable questions as these two documents define the parameters, your rights and responsibilities- with your manager and your tenant. But understand the documents define the boundaries, the parameters, not the operating strategy. It is in the documents that all costs can be determined, but it is in the operating strategy that value is determined.
Understand prices of services and what you can be charged for – Ask the prospective manager to provide a list of all charges that could or will be charged to you. They should all be included in the Management Agreement. Types of fees typically charged:
Marketing related expenses
Lease renewal fees
Management fees- often stated as a percentage of rent collected.
Types of fees sometimes charged:
Management fees when property is vacant
Fees for representation in legal proceedings
Fees for representation at HOA/Condo meetings
Fees for obtaining additional repair estimates
Fees for coordinating/overseeing major home improvements beyond normal maintenance and repair
Fees to terminate the management agreement (or transfer to property manager).
Once you understand the prices, then seek to understand the value. That is generally the hard part. Prices are the prices; value relates to your total experience
Ask about the Property Manager’s business –
Look at the business itself:Tell me about your company
How long has your company been in business?
Who are your key employees?
And… How long have they been with you? (These are separate questions and ask them in that order.) Turnover is a part of all businesses. Excessive turnover means always starting over. And you are likely to keep experiencing it. Long term employment means the business is likely stable/fair/a good place to work. If it’s a good place to work it’s probably a good place to be a customer of.
How many properties do you manage in my neighborhood/area?
How many properties do you manage?
How many staff members do you have and what are their job functions? (In that order.)
Looking to begin to understand the “depth” of the organization. That is a value proposition.
Understand the potential managers leasing strategy –
Remember vacancy “expense” is most likely our largest operational risk, so this area matters greatly.
How do you determine what the rent on my property should be?
Ask for a list of properties comparable to yours in terms of location, size, quality on which the company has rental information.
Understand your “competitive posture”. After they have seen your property, ask them what their sense of the rent should be and why. Comps play a role but comparable based pricing correlates better to sales than it does to rentals.
Can I find the tenant myself? What recommendations, warnings, suggestions, or other advice can you give me about advertising on my own?
Does your company work with Foreign Embassies when finding tenants? Is my property one which will attract embassy personnel? What other information should I know about renting to foreign clientele?
What advertising venues or medium are used to find tenants? What are the most effective avenues for your firm in finding qualified tenants?
Ask for a timeline of marketing your property to better understand what the property management company recommends for your property and your situation.
Any other marketing strategies recommended by the firm? Ask what you can do to increase your chances for a successful experience in finding qualified tenants and finalizing a lease on your property.
What are they doing to measure and evaluate the metrics of success (for you, and for themselves)? A key metric of success in leasing is “Days on Market”. Again, metrics define performance and performance begins to define value.
Tenant Selection –
What measures do you take to ensure that you are getting a good tenant?Most companies verify employment and income, order a credit report, as well as check with landlords and current employers. Understand the “How” behind the property management firm’s tenant vetting process:
What are the income qualification ratios?
How long does it take to process an application?
What is the philosophy on renting to tenants with pets?
Any other important considerations or criteria?
Management Services –
What does your management service encompass? Tasks include:
Advertising your property, and vetting a tenant;
Collecting the rent in a timely fashion. Ask “what are your procedures, when rent is late? And then what? And then what?”
Handling maintenance or repair calls;
Handling of HOA issues or insurance claims;
Providing accurate periodic financial statements to you;
Inspection of property.
Look for a sense of mission in your discussion instead of a litany of tasks.
GOOD PROPERTY MANAGEMENT = GOOD PROCEDURES!
Maintenance and Repairs –
When is an owner consulted before spending on repairs?
What are the policies on emergency repairs?
What is the management firm’s policy in selecting contractors?
How does the company ensure competitive pricing of repairs?
Does the management company evaluate and re-evaluate performance and pricing on the contractors they use?
Are contractors licensed and insured?
Can I and should I use my own, preferred vendors for the property?
Privacy and data protection –
How does your firm protect my data?
How does your firm protect their own?
References and the role of online reviews –
Ask if you may contact current clients as references (not just see a static testimonials page). Also ask for names of former clients who may have returned from their assignments and are now living in the area and could offer useful insight into their property management experience.
The role of online reviews – Don’t just count the “stars”. The reviews should not all be bad but they probably should not all be good either. I would not trust “all good” or “all bad” for very different reasons. Identify whether the review is being written by the tenant or the landlord to ensure proper context. Identify any particular review that may bother you and ask about it during your interview.
What is the most frequent area of friction that occurs between you and your clients?
Ask for examples of how the firm provides customer service to your tenant? The best answers are examples of good customer service that doesn’t involve you somehow “paying” for it.
Look for ways in which the answer is systemic- i.e. that is built into your tenant’s normal experience, the program, and not left up to an individual or circumstance that may not regularly occur.
You are looking for someone to advise you. Not someone to just carry out the tasks. We are assuming all candidates can perform the tasks at some level.
The Magic Questions –
Service positions involve significant “discretionary effort”. You are the CEO of this service business so this is part of your job to understand “discretionary effort”. Discretionary effort is the difference between the maximum amount of energy/care that your service providers can bring to their service roles and the minimum necessary to avoid penalty. The difference between the maximum and minimum energy/care is discretionary to the individual performing the services. One of the principle differences between outstanding and mediocre service companies is that the outstanding ones receive far more discretionary effort from their employees. And that is what you want in your business, so;
Once you have determined who your property manager will be, find out what you can do to prepare them so they can be successful for you. Help establish your relationship. This is as important as anything else you can do. Be one of their favorite clients! Then you will have the most productive and profitable results possible!