Success or Fluff in the Rental Business

How you create goals makes all the difference

By Robert L. Cain, Copyright 2021 Cain Publications, Inc.


How will you know when you are successful? If you believe you are now, how do you know?  Most people, landlords included, simply cannot point to an accomplishment and state positively that they have been successful. I know just about every landlord had visions of being successful when he or she bought that first rental property. Success still waits for every landlord to grab and run with it.  And you can snatch success or restart it in the next month. So get ready to set New Year’s resolutions that might encourage success. Details forthwith.

Because of my insatiable curiosity, I did a search for landlord New Year’s resolutions. I came up with three or four websites that listed at least 10 each.  The goals in each were remarkably similar even if worded slightly differently.  All were aimed at getting landlords to do the things that will make them successful in their businesses. But they don’t provide the final but essential step to accomplish those goals.

We are to “cut costs” and “watch cash flow.”  We are to “get better tenants” and “screen better.”  We are to prepare a maintenance plan and schedule maintenance.  We are to “get organized.” We are to “get rid of bad tenants.” We are to “enforce late fees.” We are to “increase rents.”  Fluff, fluff, and more fluff. Here’s why.

Each of these goals appears worthwhile.  But they are fluff.  Two more, which rank as fluffiest, were “be proactive” and “focus on the long-term.”  Huh?

The essential part of any resolution or goal is an objective, measurable result so you can tell when you have accomplished it. You can point to it and say, “I did it!”  That is not possible with any of those fluffy ones I found on the websites and listed above.

Of course, none of these websites could provide actual measurable goals because rental property success is measured one landlord at a time, one property at a time.  Each landlord’s success is unique to him or her, not to some overall, generalized goal such as those the websites listed.

Let’s take one or two of these goals and see how to put them into practice so they can be measured.

“Get better tenants” is a broken record to many landlords.  We all want the best tenants possible renting from us.  Okay, how do we know if Richard Renter standing in front of our desk with a rental application mostly filled out (except for the landlords and addresses where he’s lived that he “doesn’t remember,” of course) will be someone whom we would accept as a resident in one of our rental properties? Would he be a “better tenant”?

Since each property is different, attracting different qualities of applicant and tenant, we can’t make a blanket assumption of the classification of “better tenant.” That requires carefully crafted rental policies and standards reflecting the demographics of each property that we can use to compare the qualities of each applicant against.  Without those, the judgment of “better tenant” is left to our whim, mood at the moment, and how good a salesperson the prospective tenant is.

Thus, a measurable resolution might be worded, “create rental policies and standards for each rental property that includes minimum income required, minimum length of previous residence required, minimum credit score required, and quality of landlord references, and do it by January 15, 2022.”  Then decide for each property what those are, write them out, print them, and hand them to each applicant, making you ready to measure each rental application against them.

“Get rid of bad tenants” is no question a worthwhile, profit-enhancing goal.  But how do you measure who a “bad tenant” is?  That may be a harder one.  I have had tenants who irritated me and whom I was happy about their moving but who also paid the rent on time and took care of their homes.  Were they “bad tenants”?  Only when I got the notes with each rent check with complaints such as “light bulbs burn out too often” did I think of them as “bad tenants.”  Of course, the evil end of the “bad tenant” continuum is Tina Tenant who hasn’t paid rent on time, if at all, since the first month she lived there and whose boyfriend moved in with her along with his constantly “visiting” friends who have wild, drunken, drug-induced parties every weekend.  Obviously, Tina goes.

But somewhere in the middle is a continuum midpoint for tenants to get rid of and tenants who are simply annoying.  Again, with each property, that cutoff may be somewhat different. and for each landlord; it may be different depending on a landlord’s ability and need to tolerate irritation. But the important point is that each landlord has to decide where that cutoff is. How many times may the rent be late?  How many times do the police have to come?  How much damage to the property must there be?  Answer those questions about each tenant in each property.

By all means, make New Year’s resolutions.  Raise the rent, get better tenants, enforce late fees, get organized, but write down exactly what that means so you can point to success when you accomplish it. No more fluff, only measurable success.  It is your success and you can accomplish it if you know exactly when that success has arrived.

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