As we head into the Spring/Summer leasing season in Austin, and I just mailed my first batch of renewal letters, I’m already fielding inquiries from tenants who have lease-end dates that don’t coincide with their future plans. The inevitable question is “can we have a move-out date of x instead of y?
For one tenant, planning to get married, extending the lease from a March 31 end date to a May 31 end date (two months) is not a problem. The home is owned by a long-term investor, and the new May lease end date benefits both the owner and the tenant. This is a win/win. It places the home dead center of the summer leasing season cycle.
In these win/win scenarios, I have flexibility because the adjustment benefits my client, the owner. I work for the owner and must only make decisions that are in the owner/client’s best interest. Thus, if that same tenant, in that same house, asked for the same 2 month extension for a lease that ended July 31st instead of March 31st, the answer would be “no”. Timing is everything.
As the listing agent for a lot of rental homes in Austin (for over 20 years), I’ve been dealing lately with a lot of really angry, frustrated renters and agents.
The reason for the upset is primarily the renter losing a home to other (multiple) applicants who applied quicker and/or had their act more together. Then thinking it was unfair that they lost out.
I’ve dealt with some applicants who have lost out on 3 or 4 homes in a row and who have to be out of their current house in 1 week, and have nowhere to go. Understandably, in this tight rental market, that sucks. Big time.
But that’s the “landlord’s” rental market we have in Austin at present, so you better become more prepared and more competitive if you want to avoid this angst. This is no market for slug footed, unprepared renters who don’t take the rental home search process seriously. You have to bring your “A Game”, or you may experience great frustration.
This article is written to help those searching for a home to rent in Austin TX to avoid that unfortunate circumstance where you lose out on a home to those better prepared. It’s a step by step guide to help you become the most awesome rental applicant out there. So read this and you’ll be a step ahead of others. You will become the winner, not the loser, in this competitive Austin rental market, and hopefully find the house you want.
Determine Your Specific Move Date Window
This sounds like a no brainer, but it’s hard to believe how many renter prospects I talk to who can’t answer the simple questions “when do you need to move”. You need to know, with certainty, the soonest and latest dates you can start a new lease. The larger window of time you can create for yourself, the better.
Most Austin Property Managers, in fact all that I know, require tenant repair requests to be submitted in writing. This is required by Texas Property Code as well as the commonly used TAR (Texas Association of Realtors) and TAA (Texas Apartment Association) lease forms. It’s good practice for tenants to follow, even if the landlord or property manager doesn’t strictly enforce it. As a tenant, you want all of your important communication regarding your lease to be documented in case the worst case scenario ever comes about and you end up in court over a dispute.
At Crossland Property Management, we provide an online repair request form for the convenience of our tenants. 99% of our repair requests originate here, albeit sometimes after I direct a tenant there from a phone call or email. Occassionally tenants fuss about this. “Why can’t you just take the info over the phone?” is a common gripe. “Because we already agreed in the lease agreement that repair requests are submitted in writing or online” is my response. “And we make that super easy for you by providing an online form”.
The operational efficiencies of having all repair requests originate online through a repair request form are phenomenal.
1) The online request form is interactive.
This is very important. All property managers should be programming your online repair requests with this functionality. It’s simple to do even for non-programmers if you’re using the right web tools. Sorry, but none of the “out of the box” pre-fab websites that many property managers use provide for this, which is another good reason to develop, host and manage your own website with WordPress, then you can use a simple Forms Plugin.
For example, on my repair request form, once the checkbox under “Problem” is checked “Air Conditioner” or “Furnace”, an informational blurb automatically appears above the Submit button. It reads:
“Many of our service calls for A/C and/or furnace result in “user error” as the cause, especially when seasons change from hot/cold and thermostats are not properly set. Please double-check your thermostat and also make sure you have clean filters properly installed. If you feel confident that the thermostat and filter(s) are in order, proceed with your request so we can get out to have a look.”
Likewise, if the tenant checks “Electrical” as the problem, the following blurb automatically appears:
I’ve received a couple of calls already from agents trying to help folks displaced by the recent fires in and around Austin, including the Steiner Ranch fire and the fires in Bastrop. I currently have one vacant home ready for move-in, and would be more than happy to place new tenants in it immediately. But thus far, in both cases, the agents representing the tenants wanted me to cut corners and make accomodations that would violate my fiduciary responsibility to my client. This presents a tough quandry.
Should fire victims be granted a more lenient and expedited approval process than non-victims?
Yes and no. Property Managers who decide to waive requirements such as credit check and criminal background search and who otherwise might think it “good hearted” to skip certain parts of the application and verification process could be exposing themselves and their owners to greater liability in the event the tenant doesn’t pan out. More on that below.
On the other hand, I see no reason why we, as professionaly property managers, can’t expedite the processing and make reasonable, defensible accomodations should we receive an application from a displaced fire victim. But one agent I just spoke with basically wanted me to say whether or not I’d approve the application before it’s even brought in. I can’t do that. All I can say is that I’ll try to make it work, but it’s still going to have to be brought in and processed like any other application.
But here are some examples of what I think would be reasonable accomodation.
No Picture ID
We require a copy of a picture ID with every application. What if the applicant’s purse, wallet and all identification documentation got burned up in the house?
I remember the day clearly, Wed April 14th, 1999. I received a call from one of my property owner clients. He was working on his income taxes and he was angry, not at the IRS but at me! Even though he received a monthly statement showing all income and expenses on his property, adding it all up at tax time caused him to question the $1,200 in management fees for that year.
“Why am I paying you $100/mo to sit on your butt and do nothing?”, he wanted to know. There had only been two service call repair events that year at his home. Both were minor and less than $100 each. The largest expense for the year was management fees, and he wanted to know what I had done to earn that $1,200.
I responded by asking if his house (the one he lived in, in Nevada) had burned down that year? He said, “no” and “what’s that got to do with anything”. I asked if he’d called his insurance agent and yelled at him because, after all, that insurance agent had been paid all year for doing nothing, and in fact had done even less work than than me, the property manager. I went on to explain that property managers are paid not only for what we do, but for what we stand ready to do 24/7, 365 days a year. We are compensated for the peace of mind we provide by being on call so the owner doesn’t have to. From an owner’s perspective, we manage only that one house, but from a property manager’s perspective, we earn a living managing a portfolio of rental homes.
In order to understand why it’s a good thing if your property manager didn’t have to work hard on your property for an entire year, you have to understand the economics of owning and operating a property management company in Austin TX.
The Austin rental market remains strong, and rent values continue to rise overall. Let’s start with a look at the historic rental value graph. Going back to 1999, the YTD 2010 average and median rental rates still remain below the peaks of 2000/2001.
The big dip in rental rates in Austin following the peak in 2000/2001 was a result of the tech bubble (does anyone even remember that) followed by 9/11. Around the tail end of 2005 our real estate sales market started picking up after remaining flat for 4 years, and rental values started to rise as well. We’re almost back to where we were at the start of the decade.
Next, the chart below shows August year-over-year rental market stats for Austin.