How To

“Revert to Owner” Option with Utility Companies

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Did you know about the “Revert to Owner” option with utility companies?

UtilitiesElectric companies and gas companies offer a free service called “Revert to Owner.” This is very helpful when you own an investment property.

What happens is that any time a renter calls the utility company and asks for the electric or gas to be turned off, the utility will automatically be switched to your name (the owner) so that there’s no interruption in service.

Think about that.  Your renter is moving out in December and you’re on a skiing trip with your family. You don’t want to sit on the phone with KCP&L while you’re on vacation, making sure the utilities don’t get shut off when the current renter moves out.

Even worse, if your power or gas are shut off in the heat of the summer or the cold of the winter, you might have thousands of dollars in damages due to freezing pipes or mold depending on the time of year.

All you have to do to get this set up is fill out a form with your utility company.

In an effort to get you started in the right direction, here’s a link to the utility sheets that we have for most major cities in the Kansas City metro:
Utility Sheets in Kansas and Missouri

If you own an investment property, we recommend that you get this set up as soon as possible!

Fun Relationship Builders? The Move In Bag and Move Out Box!

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By Oretta Croushore, Property Manager for Home Rental Services

Move-in appointments are one of my favorite parts of my job as property manager. It’s one of the only times I get a chance to meet our renters face to face. I love having the chance to shake their hands and put a face to the voice on the phone or behind the emails.

Let’s face it, moving is stressful.

I don’t care how you do it. We have renters who are moving across town and those who are moving across the country. I’m chatty and curious by nature, so this is like a mini Barbara Walters moment for me. I love to hear their stories. I recently moved in a couple who were moved to Kansas City from Kentucky by the military. They were married just a few short months before. Knowing they were going to move, they had not even opened most of their wedding gifts.

I was thrilled to think of these newlyweds starting their lives as a married couple in one of “our” houses. I don’t think I will ever forget the very large family who came to the move in appointment! We must have looked like a clown car unloading as we all filed out of the conference room after the move-in appointment. The kids were a delight though… It’s such a treat to hear them excited about their new house.

Our conference room has a beautiful view of College and Metcalf, and the office tends to be peaceful. I know the people I’m meeting with have been running from here to there trying to get everything ready for the past several weeks. Sometimes, they’ve even driven straight in from out of state to meet with me. When they walk into our beautiful conference room, and let out a little sigh, I feel like we’re already making them feel at home.

The Move In Bag

Home Rental Services: Move In and Move Out GiftsOnce all the business is done and I’ve handed over keys, I have one more surprise for the renters. The move in bag! This is a reusable bag with the Home Rental Services logo on the front. I tell them it’s a goody bag with a few things to get them through the first few days in their new home. There’s some toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap, cookies, candy, pens, a chip clip, and popcorn. We also like to include local restaurant guides.

A lot of thought has gone into what we put in the bags. We wanted things which are portable, economical, and useful. The reaction is always so appreciative and often excited. There’s been talk of having these bags left at the house for when the renters arrive. However, the property managers enjoy the experience so much, we refused to give it up.

Move Out Boxes

Home Rental Services: Move In and Move Out GiftsThe move in bags have been so successful, that we decided to implement move out boxes. These are delivered by the leasing agents when they go to the house for the walk-through at relisting time. We make no rash decisions at Home Rental Services. We spend a lot of time thinking about the right things to put into these boxes. The idea was they would be things to help the renter get the house ready for inspection and to help their move. We created a few documents to help walk the renters through the move out process and the reconciliation of the security deposit.

We’ve learned over the years there are a lot of questions at move-out. We included a checklist of things to remember to address before they leave. Are there burned out light bulbs? Have you mowed the yard for the last time? Is the furnace filter clean? These reminders benefit everyone (and help keep turn costs lower.) There’s a small roll of packing tape and a Magic Eraser as well as some candy in the box. We want to send our renters off onto their next chapter with as much care and consideration as we did when welcoming them to their new home.

It’s the little things that make all the difference in a relationship. Move-in and move-out gifts are good ways to show our clients that we really care about them!

How to make more money on your rental property.

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By Jennifer Hermon, Administrative Specialist for Home Rental Services

Home Rental Services: Make More Money on Your Investment PropertyInvestors have one goal in common… to make a decent return on investment with their rental properties. So one of the most common questions we hear as a professional property manager is “how?”

How do I make more money on my investment property?

One drastically overlooked area is renter retention. Sure, there’s location and making a house look good for showings. But once we’ve secured a good renter, a typical landlord forgets about it. They often count on the rental profit coming in from then on out. The mistake is that many owners don’t plan on keeping that renter to avoid costly turn over.

Renter retention starts the day the renter moves in and should never stop.

Typically, just after move in, a renter will find a few things that need to be checked or repaired. Maybe the wobbling ceiling fan didn’t bother the last renter, so it wasn’t reported. A toilet may have a slow leak that no one noticed before because that bathroom was rarely used. Whatever the case, we listen to the renters and do what is reasonable to make the home enjoyable for them. This also protects your investment.

Throughout the year, we keep renters informed with email and blog post reminders about removing hoses in the winter, reporting problems directly after large storms, etc. These are just a few of the things Home Rental Services does to promote renter retention.

So what can you, as an owner do? Listen to your renters. Be Proactive.

Ask your renter what could be done to the home to make them want to sign a new lease at renewal. Recently, we had a renter comment that they really love the home, but the old dishwasher makes a terrible racket. So they can’t really run it when someone is on the first floor. Sure, it works, but if spending a few hundred dollars on a new, quieter dishwasher makes them love the living space, replace it! That is so much less expensive and worrisome than vacancy or making constant repairs to a failing appliance. (Investor Insight: It is almost always a better ROI to replace a dishwasher vs. paying for repairs.)

Reinvest in your rental investment property.

This involves more than just planning ahead for exterior painting or new carpet in seven years. Plan for appliance replacement. Updating light fixtures and faucets can also go a long way. A freshly stained deck not only protects your investment, it reminds the renter of additional living space, giving more value to the home. If someone is proud of their home, whether they rent it or own it, they’re more likely to take better care of it.

In summary, don’t lose money to turnover and vacancy… Spend money on your occupied property to keep your tenants (people paying the mortgage) happy. Give them more reasons to love the home and stay year after year!

If Snowmageddon happens, are you ready?

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By Caitlin Meehan, Director of Client Care for Home Rental Services.

It is getting to be that time of the year, temperatures drop and leaves start falling. We’d like to remind you of a few things that can save you money, time and headaches:

  • SpigotDisconnect water hoses from exterior faucets:
    If you leave the hoses connected to your water spigots, you run the risk of them freezing which can break the supply line.  The simple fix is to simply disconnect the hoses.  We recommend that you store the hoses in your garage to help them last longer!
  • Install a clean furnace filter:
    Per your Lease agreement, this is to be changed at least once a quarter.  If you have a window air conditioning unit, remove from the window or place a waterproof cover over it to prevent damage during the winter. Don’t forget filters in stove vents, and clothes dryers.  (Clean air filters will keep your family healthier in the fall months and keep your heating costs down!)
  • Check the smoke detectors:
    Replace any batteries as needed.  There should be one working smoke detector per floor in your house.  Please let us know if there is not or if you have a detector that is not working because of something other than a dead battery.  We want you to be safe!
  • Sprinkler systems:
    Please inform us immediately if you have a sprinkler system that has not yet been winterized or scheduled for winterization.
  • Examine your gutters and downspouts for debris:
    While standing on the ground look at your gutters and downspouts for built up leaves and debris. Also, check downspouts for damage or loose pieces.
  • LeavesRemove leaves from the grass and flower beds:
    It is very important to remove leaves from the grass and flower beds as they begin to fall, before the ice and snow come.  If you don’t pick up the leaves, there is a good chance they’ll kill the grass and landscaping which is expensive to repair.
  • When that dreaded ice and snow do get here please do NOT apply any chemicals or salts to the driveway or sidewalk of the property that will cause damage to the concrete.  Read and follow labels carefully before applying.
  • Consider having some extra food, water and blankets on hand in case ice and snow take out your electricity.

We want to help ensure you do not face any emergencies related to the weather at the home, so consider taking the time to complete the above items. We hope your fall is off to a great start!

Treat Your Investment Property Like The New York Subway

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New York SubwayGuest post by Jennifer Hermon, Administrative Specialist at Home Rental Services

In the late 80’s, as a teenager, I took a trip to New York. I was terrified that I would have to take the dreaded subway. It’s reputation at the time was that of Gotham’s finest location to get murdered, mugged, drugged or to find housing for vagabonds. I lucked out and never had to descend into that dirty, treacherous underground world.

When I returned ten years later as an adult, I couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. Every day for a week, twice a year, I’d grab my Starbucks and trek down into the tunnels to get to another part of town in just minutes. I loved it! The stations were cleaner than my kitchen! The trains weren’t covered in gang graffiti.

How could this be? How did this entire system get turned into a place people willingly go and seem to take care of? And how does it stay that way?

New York SubwayThe story of the NYC subway turn-around is quite amazing considering what those responsible were up against. Crime was up and subway income was down.

What I didn’t know during my first trip to the Big Apple was that new policies were being enforced with cooperation between the mayor’s office, transit authority and police and that they vowed to turn things around underground as well as above. The theory was basically that people won’t take care of something that isn’t cared for and will leave it in no better condition than they found it, or possibly make it worse.

Every train that was painted with graffiti would be immediately painted and not sent back onto the rails until that was complete. The stations were cleaned, lighting replaced, and crime simply not tolerated. The message the city was sending was clear and effective. The agencies involved were diligent and eventually transformed the underground transportation to a profitable system that locals and visitors were happy to travel.

The idea of taking care of things so that others will follow your example can be applied in many other areas. I tested it out for myself.

New York SubwayFor instance, when I make the house smell like I just cleaned it (a bit of lemon Pledge spray is effective), my boys seem to be afraid to touch anything when they come home from school. They take their books and backpacks and head straight to their rooms. At least for a few days after a deep clean, they are suddenly putting dirty dishes straight into the dishwasher! They actually respect the space in which they live. I make it easy for them to maintain by providing a container of cleaning wipes and a roll of paper towels in their bathrooms.

If something breaks, I get it fixed. I want them to see that I am holding myself to the same standard of responsiveness I expect from them. (Except when milk runs out, because I refuse four trips a week to the grocery store).

I believe that the same concept applies to a rental home. Arriving in a well-cared for, clean home for the first time puts the tenant/landlord relationship on the right track for a positive experience. They sense your pride in ownership and are likely to carry that forward in how they live in and care for your home.

New York SubwayLandscaping that is well tended tends to stay that way. Issues get reported in a timely manner because the renters know you’ll take care of problems. That you won’t let them sit and fester into something worse. It’s mutual respect that can extend the lease and the life of the home’s components because everyone is working together.

These 5 Things Cost Landlords The Most Money

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Home Rental Services: These 5 Things Cost Landlords the Most MoneyThe following list includes what we consider to be the biggest potential costs a landlord may face. Yes, these 5 things are required expenses for any rental property. But minimizing the exposure to these costs can make a significant difference on the balance sheet at the end of the year.

One: Vacancy

When a home is vacant, no rent is being collected. And that’s a bad thing for landlords. An industry standard of measurement for this situation is called “Days on Market.” The fewer days on market the better. The national average for days on market is 30 days. That’s a full month of rent lost at every turn! On top of lost rent, you also have turnover costs like painting and repairs.

Two: Not Having a Strong Lease

Having a strong lease is key to protecting yourself, and your investment.  You want to make sure that it outlines who is responsible for what, and properly covers your liability. Then you must hold renters to the contract that they sign. If you allow them to pay rent a day late, you become the first one to violate your own contract!

Three: Not Screening Renters Properly

Accepting a bad tenant can be costly. They may not pay their rent on time. They may not pay their rent at all. They may not take care of the home, or even worse cause damage.

The best way to minimize the chance of getting a bad tenant is through a professional screening company.  Bad credit? Criminal background? Bad leasing history? You can only make an educated decision if you have all the facts.

Four: Maintenance

Every home requires maintenance. The best plan is to set aside a reasonable amount of money every month to pay for things when they break or need to be updated. It’s not about if something is going to require maintenance, it’s about when something will require maintenance. Being prepared financially is the best defense for maintenance costs. You also want to make sure to perform regular upkeep maintenance on things to avoid costly emergency repairs.

Five: Lack of Knowledge

Renting a home is not a simple task. There are so many things a landlord needs to understand to be successful.

What price will the market bear for monthly rent? Too low and you aren’t getting what the home is worth. Too high and you may force longer than necessary vacancy until the price is adjusted.

There are many laws that must be followed related to rental homes. Fair Housing when interviewing and selecting renters. Understanding local laws about the process for evicting a renter. Understanding how to handle security deposits so that you aren’t commingling funds. Getting into legal trouble is expensive and time consuming.

We wrote this story because we manage hundreds of homes and know what it takes to do it properly, safely and successfully.  If you need help managing your investment property, please give us a call today. We can help!

Distracted Living: Do You Look At Your Phone 100 Times a Day?

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

Do you feel naked when you don’t have your phone with you? Do you find that you always have an electronic device on around you?

Home Rental Services: Work Apps Folder on my PhoneIf so, you aren’t alone. Would you believe that the average person checks their cell phone over 100 times per day? Wow, it’s no wonder that we feel strange without the devices we’ve come to rely on so heavily.

When I say heavily, I mean that here at HRS, we take technology seriously.  We utilize a plethora of databases, apps, websites and tech tools to help increase business efficiency and enhance our client/customer experience.  Here is a look at the dedicated folder of “Work” apps I have on my phone!

As this was a growing problem for me personally, and our culture as a whole, I wanted to take a moment to encourage everyone to reduce the attention we give our devices.

You Have to Start Somewhere

Turn Off Your Work Email For The WeekendEach and every weekend when I get home, I go into my phone settings, select my work email account and click the toggle button that turns it off. This allows me to avoid stress over the number of emails that come through over the weekend. Believe it or not, 100% of the time, the emails are safe and sound… waiting for me in my inbox on Monday morning.

Consistency is Key

Every January for the past four years, my wife and I have taken the month off from social media. We’re not against social media. We realized that keeping up with social media was consuming more of our time than it should. It was distracting us from living. In January this year, I went as far as deleting the Facebook app from my phone entirely. It felt like I got a bit of my life back. And I’ve had no desire to install it again.

Taking it to a Whole New Level

I recently took a three day weekend trip with my family to the lake. I decided I would turn off my phone when we arrived. (I couldn’t turn it off prior because my phone is also my navigation device.)

I powered my phone down and left it in a safe place for the entire weekend. Yes, there were there times when I felt naked because it wasn’t in my pocket. Yes, there were times when I wanted to check the weather or Google something. Or take a picture. But guess what? I survived. And better yet, I was engaged and present with my friends and family the entire time.

Text Message - Are you alive?Funny side note, when I powered my phone back on, I had a few texts, zero missed calls (ironic) and quite a few emails. Here’s my favorite text message… “Are you alive?”

Its good to know my friend cares… He also sent a text to my wife since I had not responded for a couple days! Thanks Mike!

The Challenge

My challenge to you (and for myself) is to become less distracted by our electronic devices. To be present and “in the moment.” Stop pulling out your phone every time it rings, bleeps or vibrates.

Strike up a conversation with the person on the elevator or in the long line at Chipotle. I bet you notice the difference. And I bet you like the change. Good luck!

What is colorless, tasteless, odorless and the second highest cause of lung cancer?

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Author: Paul Branton

Paul BrantonHey there! I’ve got a riddle for you today.

What is colorless, tasteless, odorless and the second highest cause of lung cancer? What was that?! Did you say your mother-in-law’s cooking? Ok, well that’s both incorrect and a potential cause for couch sleeping; I won’t tell anyone you said that. For those of you who said radon gas, you are correct. Congratulations!

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is a gaseous radioactive element that has the symbol Rn and is derived from the radioactive decay of radium. Since it is created by radioactive decay in soil, rock and water, it naturally moves up into the air we breathe, often times through the foundation floor and walls of our homes.

Quick Stats About Radon:

  • #2 cause of lung cancer, second only to smoking
  • Approximately 1 in 15 homes have an elevated level of radon gas
  • Estimated to be closer to 1 in 4 homes in Kansas
  • Radon tests cost $85-$135 and radon systems cost $800-$1600 on average

If you’re excited to learn more about radon, here’s a great link to the EPA’s “Guide to radon”.

This pamphlet walks you through what the EPA recommends you do when taking possession of a home with regard to radon testing. In addition to the EPA’s pamphlet, here’s a great circular published by the Kansas Geological Survey that goes into much greater detail on radon, specifically in Kansas.

Keep CalmTesting is important!

This is the only way to determine the level of radon in a building and confirm if it’s above or below 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L).  If the test finds the radon levels above 4 pCi/L, that’s too high… and a mitigation system should be installed to lower the levels. In Kansas, radon contractors are required to be certified, so make sure when selecting a professional to work with, that they have the proper credentials.

If you already have a system installed in your home, make sure to check the levels on the pipe every so often to ensure it is still properly operating.

RadonShould the test come back with high levels of radon and a system needs to be installed, make sure that everyone is on the same page for what is considered an acceptable installation placement.

In the end, it’s important to be aware of radon and the effects it can have on those living in your home and to address any potential concerns.

Have a great week!

5 Tips to Avoid Trouble with Your Security Deposits [VIDEO]

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Our landlord advice today is: Five tips for staying out of trouble with security deposits. You don’t want to violate security deposit law or find yourself in court because you made a mistake in the collecting, holding, or dispersing of the tenant’s deposit.

Know Your State Limits

Each state varies a little bit, and our services are in both Kansas and Missouri. In Missouri, you can charge up to two months of rent as a security deposit. In Kansas, it’s one month of rent, unless your renters have pets or the unit is furnished. So, know your state limits.

Charge the Same Amount

You need to charge the same security deposit amount, regardless of the number of people who are living in the property. It may be tempting to charge more when you have 10 people in the house. But, you must charge the same amount even if you’re expecting more wear and tear on your house with extra children and tenants.

Damage vs. Wear and Tear

Only use the security deposit for damage beyond normal wear and tear. If you Google this term, you’ll find about 100 different definitions. If you’re in doubt about whether something is damage or wear and tear, you should probably just let it go. The courts seem favorable to the renters right now, so err on the side of caution.

Know Your State Laws

Understand the time requirements involved in getting the security deposit returned to your tenant. Most states have a window of 30 days, but in some states, it’s 14 days, and some states you have to inform the tenants about the damages you’re charging for after a certain number of days. Just know what your law requires, because there will always be penalties for violating those time limits, even by just one day.

Keeping the Deposit

Don’t just keep the deposit if the renters break the lease. Investors try to do that all the time; it will get you in a lot of trouble with the courts. If tenants owe rent or late fees, or there are damages, you can pull from the deposit. But, you can’t just decide to keep the whole deposit.

These are five things that Overland Park landlords need to keep in mind when it comes to security deposits. If you have any questions about this topic, or anything pertaining to property management in Kansas City, please contact us at Home Rental Services.

4 Reasons to Document the Condition of Your Rental Property [VIDEO]

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Proper documentation can be an important resource for landlords, and today we’re sharing four of the really great reasons to document the condition of your property before a renter moves in.

1. Tenant Sign-Off

This documentation will be proof that the resident accepts the property in the condition that you’re giving it to them. We recommend having paper documentation, which could be a checklist or a set of detailed notes. You should also take a number of high-quality photographs. When you have a paper checklist or condition report, you can have the resident sign the document, agreeing to the property’s condition. This isn’t a mechanical inspection, it’s more cosmetic and it allows you and your tenants to agree on how the property looks.

2. Proves Habitability

When you document the property’s condition prior to move in, you can avoid any potential later accusations from the renter that there were habitability issues. You documented the smoke detectors were working and attached, for example. You will have photos as well as written documentation.

3. Identifies Property Changes

Some tenants make changes to the house that are great, and others make changes that seem confusing or unappealing. With your documentation, you’ll be able to determine whether any of those unauthorized changes were made by your tenants. It will be easy to see that the walls were not originally pink, for example. This documentation will allow you to see and prove the changes.

4. Tenant Damage

Distinguishing between tenant damage and normal wear and tear is one of the biggest challenges for landlords. This documentation will help you demonstrate any damage that was done by the tenants. Hopefully there won’t be any damage at all after move out, but if there is, you have the original documentation and proof of what the property looked like when the lease started.

These are just a few of the reasons why documentation is so critical. If you have questions about this or anything pertaining to property management in Kansas City, please contact us at Home Rental Services.