AppFolio Launches Online Portal App for Renters

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AppFolioWe use AppFolio to manage properties and we’ve always appreciated the Online Portal functionality we get to provide for our renters.

The current, web-based portal is where renters can log in and securely pay their rent, set up automatic payments, submit maintenance requests, check the status of open maintenance requests, view or download their lease, and more. And we’re excited to announce that AppFolio has created a mobile app with the same functionality of the Online Portal website! This makes it even easier for renters to access their renter portal on the go.

If you’re a current renter with Home Rental Services and haven’t gotten access to your renter portal yet, please start here. We have a page devoted to the renter  portal on our website, as well as a form you can use to get set up with the portal for the first time.

If you’re already using the renter portal, your username and password will work in the mobile app as well.

Use the links below to download the Online Portal App for iOS and Android

The Online Portal app lets you:

  • Pay rent or dues instantly
  • Set up auto-payments
  • Submit maintenance requests, with the ability to add photos
  • Monitor the status of your maintenance requests
  • View or download your lease

AppFolio Online Portal App  AppFolio Online Portal App  AppFolio Online Portal App

Examples of Forced Appreciation

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By Paul Branton, Director of Investor Services for Home Rental Services

It’s been another productive summer here at HRS! We’ve leased 80 homes to new tenants so far in 2019 and over half of those (43 to be exact) were leased in the months of May, June and July. With a total of only 64 business days in those months, that means we leased a home every other business day! Wow! (If we also included summer lease renewals, that 43 figure would jump to over 100!!) Double Wow!

So as this summer is winding down, I’m reminded of my post from about this same time last year where I wrote about ‘Real Estate Investing Lingo Defined – Part 2’ and referenced the term “forced appreciation.”

We put the principle of forced appreciation into practice this summer and I wanted to share three examples of how we helped our clients increase the return on their investments.

Forced Appreciation Examples

Example #1 (Haskins)

Haskins Kitchen Before Haskins Kitchen After

Kitchen Before and After

New updated countertops and a new vent hood

  • Prior Rent Amount – $1,050
  • New Rent Amount – $1,199
    • Forced Appreciation = $149/m

Example #2 (Gallery)

Gallery Kitchen Before Gallery Kitchen After

Kitchen Before and After

Gallery Basement Before Gallery Basement After

Basement Before and After

LVP Flooring, New Granite, Backsplash New Stove

  • Prior Rent Amount – $1,625
  • New Rent Amount – $1,745
    • Forced Appreciation – $120/m

Example #3 (Goodman)

Goodman Kitchen Before Goodman Kitchen After

Kitchen Before and After

Goodman Entry Before Goodman Entry After

Entry Before and After

Goodman Living Room Before Goodman Living Room After

Living Room Before and After

LVP, Carpet, Painting

  • Prior Rent Amount – $1,299
  • New Rent Amount – $1,399
    • Forced Appreciation = $100/m

I don’t know about you, but I much prefer the ‘after’ photos. Wait, who cares what I think! It’s all about the renter… and the current market of renters is willing to pay the higher monthly rate for an updated property.

So, the lesson to learn here is… If you make the right improvements, you can increase the return on your investment properties!

Happy Investing!

Critter Control – You’re not crazy… but you might have bats in your attic.

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Kansas and Missouri are prime locations for a variety of wild animals to survive and thrive in residential neighborhoods. Many of our neighborhoods have large storm drainage systems, lakes and ponds nearby, and plenty of structure and landscaping to hide in. Many of us do a fairly good job managing our trash, but there are plenty of food sources in our neighborhoods. As a result, there is a pretty good chance that you will deal with some kind of animal in or near your home at some point. And we have a great recommendation for you.

Critter Control LogoCritter Control

Critter Control has more than 80 offices around the country. They say they’re nation’s leading wildlife control company and they’ve been resolving wildlife and pest issues for customers for more than 30 years. One of the things that we like about Critter Control is that they make efforts to deal with animal problems humanely.

Examples of humane animal control efforts:

  • Species-specific, no-trap animal removal techniques featuring one-way doors and excluders.
  • Humane animal handling, safe harborage and reuniting of offspring with parents/siblings.
  • The use of eco-friendly animal repellents and deterrent techniques to discourage return.
  • Professional grade animal proofing: animal entry and exit holes, identified problem areas, roof vents, chimneys, plumbing-vent pipes, exhaust vents, decks, porches, garages, etc.
  • Consumer awareness and education regarding follow-up procedures

Air ConditionerOretta’s Story

We asked Oretta, our Property Manager, what her most recent experience with Critter Control was like.

“One of our renters reported a horrible smell in their house. They looked  around their house and in the garage to see if an animal had somehow gotten into the garage and died. They found that the smell was really strong by the back door… right next to the where the air conditioning compressor was located. We called Critter Control, because we knew there was a good chance an animal had died in the compressor. Apparently a bunny had hopped into the compressor and had a really bad day when the compressor turned on. Yuck. Critter Control took care of the problem and was able to figure out how they were getting into the enclosure. They fixed the problem so that a situation like this wouldn’t happen again.”

Common animal control problems in the Greater Kansas City Metro

In Kansas City, we commonly hear about squirrels in attics, raccoons in trash cans, mice in the garage, bats in attics and digging animals around houses and yards.

SquirrelSquirrels

Squirrels can live in almost any habitat. Large nests are a problem when they bury nuts and seeds in yards. Gray and fox squirrels, both common in the region, may dig hundreds of small holes to store food for winter. If a squirrel moves into an attic, it can become a serious issue. Squirrels may create loud noises early in the morning that go on for hours. In addition, squirrels are known to chew through insulation and wiring, leading to costly damage and even fires.

Raccoons & Opossums

Have you ever been woken by the sound of something crashing outside your house at night… and you get up just in time to catch a glimpse of a furry critter foraging through garbage or running away from your porch light. Raccoons and opossums are the most common culprits of this frustrating behavior, and they will often return to the places they’ve found food before. Both raccoons and opossums can become agitated and aggressive when approached or cornered.

Bat on a treeBats

Attics tend to be dark, quiet, and safe from predators. As a result, bats love to make their home in these spaces. Colonies of bats fly out in the evening to hunt for food. They make shuffling and squeaking noises as they leave and enter the attic. And bat droppings collect quickly, leading to foul odors and other issues.

Leave it to the experts

If you notice any strange damage, holes in your yard, weird sounds at night, or you have a close encounter with an actual animal, you might have an animal control issue. We recommend you give Critter Control a call. They’ve been great to work with and really helpful when our renters report issues with animals!

Question: How much will my house rent for?

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By Paul Branton, Director of Investor Services for Home Rental Services

Owners wondering what their house will rent for is an important question that comes up constantly. I’m certain that if we compiled a list of FAQs, this one would be in the top five. Scratch that, it would definitely be in the top three. Yep, top three for sure.

When I say it comes up constantly… I mean that there isn’t a day that passes by where I don’t price between one and twelve houses. I price homes for new client inquiries. I price homes for investors looking to buy. I price homes for renewals. I price homes going back up for rent. I price homes “as-is” or “improved”.

It’s a lot of fun but also a fair amount of work. I want to find the “sweet-spot” where we are not going to leave money on the table, but also not be too aggressive.

So how exactly do I determine rental rates?

These are the four things I’m looking at when pricing a property for rent. (In no specific order)

1) Zillow Estimate and Current Rental Comparison.

I pull up the property on Zillow and look at the home as compared to the surrounding homes available for rent. Zillow also provides their own “rental Zestimate” which has improved in recent years, but isn’t always accurate. It’s based more on price per square foot in comparison to current available rentals. That’s not the full picture.

Zestimate Sample
Zestimate Sample

2) Our Portfolio Comps: On Market and Recently Leased.

I’ve been working at HRS for nearly a decade, so I’m familiar with our portfolio. This allows me to look at a property and quickly know that we have a few that are similar. I can use those for comparison. I am also actively involved in the marketing process so I’m “in the know” on what is getting leased, how quickly and at what rate. This is really helpful insight.

3) Rental Analysis: Provides Recently Leased Comps.

When there are times that I want to double check my number, or times where we don’t have as many comps to pull from, I pull a rental analysis. In fact, just last week I pulled one for an investor looking to buy a property. The rental analysis report was helpful because we didn’t have any “portfolio comps” and the “Zillow comps” weren’t in similar condition.

Rental Report Sample
Rental Report Sample

4) Historical Rent.

Of course, this is only applicable for properties that have previously been rented. I find that it’s helpful to see the historical data for some context.

For example, if you know that the property leased for X in a strong year, and Y in a weaker year, then it should land around Z in the current market.

Once I’ve reviewed as much of this data as possible, I put the property in a $100 +/- range. i.e. $1,550-$1,650.

That’s it. That’s how to determine the rental rate for your property. It’s really fairly simple…. once you’ve done it a few hundred times. :)

Homeowners’ Association Documents Recently Updated!

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Homeowners Association DocumentsMany of the homes we rent are in neighborhoods with a homeowners’ association (HOA). These kinds of associations are a governing body for the neighborhood and have the power to enforce the rules and bylaws agreed to by all members of the neighborhood.

Typically, rules and regulations apply to the exterior appearance of homes, fences, vehicle parking, additional structures like sheds, noise levels, pool use and more. We continually update the homeowners’ association documents when we receive them. We also work hard to obtain HOA documents for new houses when we begin to manage them for our owners.

We’ve added more HOA folders in the last few weeks! That takes us up to 270 HOAs that we have in our list.

We’re happy that we can make them available for our owners and renters so they can better understand the rules and regulations for their homeowners’ association. When renters move in, we ask them to review the HOA documents for their neighborhood. This is done in an effort to protect our owners and make sure the renters understand the rules for their neighborhood.

Please click on the HOA Documents link below to view the list of all neighborhoods that we currently have HOA information for. Once you find a neighborhood that you are interested in seeing, simply click on the folder to see the PDF documents we have that contain specific information about the HOA rules and regulations.

Click here for the list of HOA Documents

Technical note: We are using a web service called Dropbox to store and share the HOA documents. Dropbox makes it very easy to share any folder in your “virtual locker” with anyone, including people that don’t have Dropbox installed. We upload the HOA PDF files to our Dropbox account and link to the public view of those folders from our web site.

Spring Cleaning For Aunt Bertha

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By Oretta Croushore, Property Manager for Home Rental Services

If you asked me to describe this past winter, I would probably draw a picture of an endless, bitter cold, dark and deadly ice dungeon. Something which would make the folks at Game of Thrones shudder in horror. I do have a flair for the dramatic and I don’t like to be cold.

The good news is, the endless winter has ended and we’re into the beautiful, multiple personalities of Kansas Spring. She has a little Katie Perry thing going on, our Spring. She’s hot, then she’s cold, she’s sun then she’s snow. Still, I will welcome her like a long-lost relative. Just like my sweet old Aunt Bertha, I want Spring to feel like my house is her house. I want to get drunk on her lilac perfume. I want her rose red lipstick kisses all over my cheeks.

Before all that can happen, I have got to get the house ready for her!

We’re all familiar with the idea of Spring cleaning but how can we make the most of it in the precious time we have? After all, what we really want is to be out in it!

Spring CleaningHere’s a few tips and tricks to get the house spruced up in anticipation of your favorite relative.

  • Use a lint roller to clean your screen doors. Get all the cobwebs, pet hair, and cottonwood tree debris off the screens. (There was so much cottonwood fuzz in front of my neighbor’s house, I thought someone hit a rabbit!). Get those screens cleaned so you can let in some of that fresh air.
  • Tackle the exhaust vent in your bathroom. Take the cover down and put it in some hot, soapy water. Let the vacuum suck up all the dust bunnies in the motor. This is an area easily forgotten in our daily cleaning regime. It will not only keep you from having dust bunnies sticking to you when you are wet from the shower but will prolong the life of the motor and reduce the risk of fire hazard. No one wants charred bunny in the bathroom.
  • When was the last time you saw your sink faucets sparkle? Did you forget what they looked like when they were clean? Take a screwdriver to remove the handle, grab a cotton swab and go to town on those areas you just can’t get with a rag. Give the handles a soak in some hot, soapy.
  • Magic Eraser will really go to town on  your oven glass. As I mentioned in a previous post, we put these in our move out boxes. Maybe I should add this into our move out tips page for renters. Dirty oven glass makes a property manager sad.
  • Spring CleaningUse a dry Swiffer or dust mop to clean your walls. More dust bunny removal!
  • Give the washing machine a cleaning. It washes your dirty underwear. It deserves to have a spa day sometimes. Fill it with a quart of bleach and water and let the cycle run.
  • While you are at it, Dryer needs love, too. It gives you the warm towels you love so much. Check that your vent  screen is clean. Go outside and suck out what you can from the outdoor vent if you can reach it. If you have something like a Lint Lizard, use it to get down into the dryer to evict all those laundry-loving dust bunnies. You may also want to look into professional vent cleaning. The number of house fires caused by ignited lint is staggering.
  • Take a flat head screwdriver and a disinfecting wipe to get the crevice under the toilet’s water tank. Let’s not dwell on what might be under there. Just clean it and move on.
  • Clean your shower head. Some vinegar in a bag, rubber banded around the head and left to sit overnight will do wonders.
  • My favorite thing to do after the house has had a good cleaning is to give it a good smell. Everyone has their own preferences. You can use room sprays, air fresheners, those little things that plug into the wall, or my favorite, essential oils in a diffuser. I often diffuse oils in my office. Great choices for fresh, Spring smells and feels are citrus, rosemary, lavender, rose, and geranium. The last two I caution you with. A little goes a long way unless you really do want the house to smell like Aunt Bertha and the bridge club have been over.

Spring Cleaning RecipesHere are two “recipes” to try.

Spring Clean: 2 drops each lavender, lemon, and rosemary.

Spring Breeze: 1-2 drops geranium, 3 drops each lemon and wild orange.

Whatever Spring cleaning you choose to do, don’t let it take over your schedule. Most of us have limited down time. Get out and enjoy the air, do things you like, meet people, and remember to stop and smell the flowers. In 20 years, no one will remember how well you kept house. Clean quick and get out and play!

That’s Aunt Bertha’s secret to a long, happy life.

Lease Renewals: It’s The Best Job!

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By Amy Evans-Colledge, Renewal Coordinator at Home Rental Services

Amy Evans-ColledgeAfter being with Home Rental Services since 2001 (yes, that’s 18 years), I’ve done just about every job in the office (except for Kandy’s. There’s only one Kandy!)

I’ve done sales, property management, office management, marketing, new business, and lease extensions (which we call “renewals”). Not that I don’t love them all, but just like we’re not supposed to have favorites with kids, most of us secretly do. I definitely have a favorite job here and that is renewals!

Renewals

I get the unique opportunity to visit with renters in their homes, surrounded by everything that is most dear to them in life. Although I’m not there to get personal, it often ends up in conversation about family photos on the wall, kids drawings on the fridge, or their furry family that greet me at the door. I enjoy the opportunity to build trust, or a bridge, that you just can’t get on the phone, through email or in the office. But I’m there for a main purpose and that is for YOU!

Let me start from the beginning.

About 70% of our renters extend their leases! This tells us that the majority of people we lease to are happy in their home and with the service they’ve received while living there.

(Just a side note – we do learn and track reasons why a renter chooses not to renew. #1 is they have purchased a home. #2 is they are moving out of the area.)

Anyway, once I learn that a renter wants to stay/renew their lease, I let the homeowner know of the good news. I negotiate the terms of the new lease with the renter and I visit the home to make sure the renter is taking care of it. I report any needed preventative maintenance back to the homeowner. It is not until after that visit that I then collect a new lease from the renter.

I tell people all the time that if we didn’t get to work with such an amazing pool of renters (which is due in large part to our screening process) that there is no way I would’ve lasted in property management for all these years.

The homes we manage are generally very well cared for. Renters tend to treat them as their own and are great to work with. Every once in a while I’ll have to remind a renter to rake leaves or change batteries in the smoke detectors. But usually I’m leaving them with a little thank you token from Home Rental Services. It’s our way of thanking them for taking such good care of the home. (See below… these are popular. We have to AD-MITT You are a Sweet Renter. And Just Popped in to say we are BUTTER with renters like you. Ha ha!)

HRS Tenant Gift: Oven Mitt HRS Tenant Gift: Snack Mix

When I’m at a house at the time of lease expiration, I’m there to be the homeowner’s eyes.

I look at the gutters to make sure they are free of debris. I check the ceilings to see if there are any signs of plumbing or roof leaks that a renter may not have noticed. Tile and caulk in bathrooms need to be checked to prevent any future problem areas. I look at trees to make sure they’re not dangerously hanging over the roof. And I look at down spouts to make sure they are properly extended and not causing damage to yards/running water back toward the house. I examine the exterior for possible wood rot and chipping/peeling paint. One of the most common maintenance issues I see is the condition of outdoor wood decks – they need basic upkeep of weather treatment and stain.

These are all things I will mention to the homeowner when I send a copy of the newly completed lease. If the homeowner wants to have any of the work completed, they let us know and we get it done using our trusted and insured vendors. Renters LOVE to see results from the things they point out to me during the visit.

My favorite part of this job I love is getting to see familiar faces year after year. I get to catch up with renters through pregnancies, divorce, death, children graduating, career changes (on their end), etc. I’ve even learned some of our renters are actually landlords themselves in other states. So, working with awesome homeowners AND getting to invite myself over to visit with cool renters = FAVORITE!

Top 5 Tips for Preparing Your Home for Spring!

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Top 5We’re all usually very busy. Because of that, we thought it would be a good time to give you our Top 5 Tips for Getting Your Home Ready for Spring! A lit bit of preventative maintenance can go a long way and potentially help you avoid major hassles or cost in the future!

This list is geared towards our current renters, but applies to anyone maintaining a home!

  1. Change your furnace filter
    This should be done on a regular basis, at least quarterly.
  2. Check (and change if necessary) batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
    It’s a good idea to check all of your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on a yearly basis.
  3. From the ground, inspect your gutters for leaves hanging over the sides.
    If your gutters are full and need to be cleaned out, please submit a maintenance request.
  4. Walk around your house and make sure all gutter downspouts have splash guards.
    If you are missing some splash guards, please submit a maintenance request.
  5. Put down new mulch in your yard as needed to prevent weeds and protect plants.

For a complete list of Renter Responsibilities, please visit the page we’ve dedicated to this topic on our website.

We hope that at least one of these reminders comes in handy as you think about maintenance items you might need to address as we get ready for spring and summer!

Whether it’s an interview, date or marketing a home: First impressions are important.

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By Paul Branton, Director of Investor Services for Home Rental Services

I’m guessing you’ve heard the phrase, “You only get one chance at a first impression.” It’s true. It doesn’t matter if it’s for an interview, a date or marketing a home, you’re likely going to get one shot to achieve your goal. (The goal is to win them over by way of a good first impression.)

So, if it’s for that first date, what are you going to do to prepare? I imagine that most of us would likely get a haircut, take a shower, put on a new outfit and wear some perfume or cologne, right? You should view marketing your home in the same light. If you expect your date (the new tenant) to like the property, it needs to look clean and be well put together.

Here are my recommendations for preparing your property so that the prospective new tenant says, “where do I sign?”

  • Give your property a haircut… Clean up the landscaping.
  • Give your property a shower… Freshen up the paint.
  • Buy a new outfit… Update the lighting, appliances, hardware, faucets, flooring, etc.
  • Wear perfume or cologne… Clean the house really well, especially the carpets.

With spring officially starting soon, now is a great time to determine your plans for making that great first impression! I’ve included some before and after photos below for one of our recent projects. I wanted to share an example of the difference these updates can make.

If you need help figuring out what to do or where to start, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We would be happy to help!

Front of House – Before/After

Front - Before Front - After

Front Porch and Door – Before/After

Front Door - Before Front Door - After

Kitchen – Before/After

Kitchen - Before Kitchen - After

Deck – Before/After

Deck - Before Deck - After

Security Deposits: It’s a Process.

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By Oretta Croushore, Property Manager for Home Rental Services

Spot the Difference GameHave you ever played one of those “spot the differences” games?

My mom is a whiz at them. In the blink of an eye, she can tell you the dog in the first picture has two spots and in the second picture has three. I was always more of a hidden objects girl, myself. I still pick up the Highlights Magazines in the doctor’s office to see how many I can find before they call me back. However, over the past few years, I’ve gotten much better at finding the differences. That comes from processing security deposits after renters move out.

I’m sure you could ask a dozen different property managers how they assess damages after a move out and you would get a dozen different answers.

Since we have 200 plus photos from each move in and move out inspection, I start there.

First, I go through the move out photos.
I keep a spreadsheet open on my other screen to make notes. If I see something that seems like it’s out of place, I make a note on the spreadsheet. Is the oven dirty? Was that wall damaged at move in? Was there always a TV mount in the living room? I’m also looking for burned out light bulbs and checking to make sure cleaning was done as required in the lease. Renters are required to provide a receipt for professional carpet cleaning. If they don’t email it to me before the inspection, it should have been left on the kitchen counter. Additionally, the garage door remotes, house keys, and mail box keys should be on the counter.

Next, I go through the move in photos.
Here’s where the game begins. I strike through anything on my list which I see was present at move in. I’m also looking for anything which was present at move in and not there at move out. Did the renters remove the refrigerator? Are there interior doors missing? Do we have the same number of garage door remotes we started with?

When I’ve finished reviewing the photos, I look at the paper inspection.
Renters are provided a copy of the inspection when they move in. They are asked to add their own notes to the inspection and return it to us within a few days of move in. We use the copy on which they made notes for the move out inspection. That way, all the notes are in one place. The third party inspector uses a red pen to make move out notes. I’m looking for anything in red that I might have missed in the photos. Occasionally, I find something in the inspection notes which I thought was going to be renter damage, but I find it was actually part of the move in inspection.

Once I feel I have sufficiently assessed all renter damage in need of repair, I put work orders in to our vendors. I will await the invoices from the vendors so that I can charge the renters’ security deposit the exact amount which was charged by the vendor. There are occasions where the security deposit has to be returned to the renters before I can get the invoice back. In those situations, I ask the vendors to provide an estimate so the charges are as accurate as possible.

By law, we have 30 days from the move out date to have  the security deposit back to the renter. That doesn’t mean we can mail it out on day thirty. The renters are to have it in their hands, along with a statement of charges, by day thirty. Our software keeps a calculation of the number of days since the move out. I use this feature a ton!

It’s a process.

Security DepositAs you can see, this is a lengthy process. Renters are always anxious to get their money back as quickly as possible. However, this is a process I refuse to rush through. I work diligently to make sure the renters do not have any reason to dispute the charges. I often reach out to other members of the HRS team when I’m unsure about charging something. It’s not always as black and white as we would like it to be. The question we always ask ourselves is,“would this charge hold up in court?” It can be quite costly for an owner if a judge rules in favor of the renter on a security deposit dispute. The owner could end up refunding the renter 1 ½ times the amount of the full security deposit!

Typically, renters submit their disputes in writing to HRS. Then, I go back through the whole process to make sure nothing was overlooked. I have a fantastic template I use to show before and after pictures of move in conditions versus move out conditions. I find this usually helps the renters better understand their charges.

Next time you see one of those puzzles that ask you to find twenty differences, think lovingly of your favorite property manager.