Real estate generally slows down during the winter months. Kids are back at school. People have started new jobs. With Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other holidays on tap, most people aren’t eager to pack up and move until at least the New Year. Even then, it can be hard to find great tenants.
Case in point: a friend approached me last week looking for help. He bought a two-family home in a great neighborhood just north of Boston. He has one 2-bedroom unit and one 3-bedroom unit. Both were in decent (though, admittedly, not great) condition. The units are a little out-of-date, and they’re definitely small, even by typical city-living standards. He explained that he was having a hard time renting the units. Was his asking price too high? How could he get these units filled? His carrying costs were starting to add up!
I understand his frustration. Leasing during the off-season isn’t easy; but there are certain tricks we’ve learned over time that can fill vacancies faster–even in the dead of winter.
Here’s the advice I gave him, as well as a few other leasing tips you may want to consider this winter.
Off-Season Leasing Tips: #1
Complete Your Online Listings
When I looked at the listings my friend had put together, I realized he didn’t include a lot of pertinent information. Are utilities included? Is there on-site parking? Don’t put it on the prospect to track down information, particularly if you’re looking to lease during the off-season.
Off-Season Leasing Tips: #2
Market the Unit Differently
In my experience, it’s easier to rent 1- and 2-bedroom units than 3-bedroom units. So, using my friend’s case as an example: the rooms in his 3-bedroom unit are really small. I suggested he try marketing the 3-bedroom as a 2-bedroom plus an office. The price he wanted was still very reasonable for a 2-bedroom, so this strategy will help him capture those looking for a 2-bedroom unit who might be enticed by having the third bedroom as an office, nursery, fitness room, etc.
Off-Season Leasing Tips: #3
Host an Open House
People are busy. If you want to lease an apartment quickly, consider hosting an open house (or two–one on a weekend day, one on a weeknight). This gives people an opportunity to tour the unit without having to set up individual appointments. Most people think open houses are only worthwhile when you’re selling your home; but in our experience, renters like the convenience of open houses, too.
Off-Season Leasing Tips: #4
Make Easy Upgrades
The two units that my friend was trying to lease are a bit out-of-date. The kitchen has traditional oak cabinets with outdated hardware. A coat of white paint and new hardware would give the kitchen a more modern, fresh look. I suggested that he spring for a new stove while he’s at it. He could probably find a replacement stove on Craigslist–one that’s relatively new and in good condition, but is being discarded by someone who’s upgrading to stainless steel. I also urged him to swap out the light fixtures for a more modern look. These are easy upgrades that can be made in just a few days, but will present the vacant unit in a whole new light (no pun intended!).
Off-Season Leasing Tips: #5
Add Additional Amenities
If you’ve been considering adding a washer and dryer, maybe now’s the time to pull the trigger. Consider springing for a coin-operated washer and dryer that can be shared by residents; or if your space and budget allow, consider installing a stackable washer and dryer set in each of the vacant units you’re hoping to rent. Residents will be sure to appreciate the added amenity.
Off-Season Leasing Tips: #6
We know that most people aren’t looking for apartments during the holiday season; so if you’re looking to fill a vacancy quickly, you might want to offer an incentive. For instance, you could offer 25% off rent in December for anyone who leases before January 1. Your carrying costs will likely outweigh that concession if a unit sits vacant. Getting someone in the door with a temporary discount is better than not having anyone at all!
Off-Season Leasing Tips: #7
Sweeten the Deal
Big apartment communities often throw in a few additional “sweeteners,” but it’s something that smaller building owners can do, too. Sweeteners–like free cable, or a $250 gift certificate to a local supermarket or grocery store–can make or break it for someone who’s comparing your apartment with others in the area.
Off-Season Leasing Tips: #8
Focus on Customer Service
When the phone rings, answer. When someone emails you, respond quickly. If someone has questions about your rental, get back to them with answers as quickly as possible. It increases the chances that they’ll choose your rental over another. In addition, enhanced communication will show prospects that you’re a reliable landlord, which bodes well for the future.
Off-Season Leasing Tips: #9
Try a Non-Standard Lease
Some landlords get hung up on a standard 12-month lease. However, if you’re looking to fill a unit during the winter slowdown, consider offering more flexible lease terms. Perhaps someone is moving to the area on a short-term job assignment and needs a 6-month lease; or maybe a family is interested in moving to the area, and would feel more comfortable with an 18- or 24-month lease. As a general rule of thumb, we like to stagger lease expirations and schedule them to end during peak leasing season (May through August). This will help you to avoid off-season leasing next time around.
Off-Season Leasing Tips: #10
Don’t Lower Your Standards
If you’re struggling to fill a vacant unit, it’s tempting to accept the first person who shows interest. This is a HUGE mistake that can be costly down the road. Keep your standards high when screening prospective tenants.
Filling apartment vacancies during the winter can seem daunting, but hang in there: People always need housing. People get new jobs; people get divorced; people have babies and need more space. There are all sorts of reasons why people might need to move during the winter. Follow these tips to steer those people in your direction!
Amanda Maher is a self-proclaimed policy wonk who dabbles in real estate law. Amanda holds a B.S. in Political Science and Sociology from Boston University, as well as a Masters in Urban and Regional Policy from Northeastern.