How To

10 tips to prepare your home for winter!

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Preparing your home for winter.It’s a good time to start thinking about preparing your home for winter. By doing some proactive maintenance and repair, you can save money on utility bills and avoid major problems before it gets really cold outside!

If you are a current renter with Home Rental Services, please review the list below. If there is something you need help with, please open a work order using your Tenant Portal.

Here are ten tips to help you prepare your home for winter:

1) Furnace Inspection

  • Stock up on furnace filters and change them quarterly.
  • Remove all flammable material from the area surrounding your furnace.

2) Check the Exterior, Doors and Windows

  • Inspect exterior for crevice cracks and exposed entry points around pipes; seal them.
  • Use weatherstripping around doors to prevent cold air from entering the home and caulk windows.
  • Replace cracked glass in windows and, if you end up replacing the entire window, prime and paint exposed wood.
  • If your home has a basement, consider protecting its window wells by covering them with plastic shields.

3) Inspect Roof, Gutters & Downspouts

  • From the ground, do a visual inspection of your gutters.
    (If you’re a current renter with Home Rental Services and you see leaves, sticks, etc. open a work order in your Tenant Portal.)
  • Make sure that there are splash blocks under each downspout.

4) Service Weather-Specific Equipment

  • Snow BlowerDrain gas from lawnmowers.
  • Service or tune-up snow blowers.
  • Replace worn rakes and snow shovels.
  • Buy bags of ice-melt / sand.

5) Check Foundation

  • Rake away all debris and vegetation from the foundation.
  • Seal up entry points to keep small animals from crawling under the house.
  • Secure crawlspace entrances.

6) Install Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

  • BatteriesBuy extra smoke detector batteries and change them when daylight savings ends.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector near your furnace and / or water heater.
  • Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they work.
  • Buy a fire extinguisher or replace an extinguisher older than 10 years.

7) Prevent Plumbing Freezes

  • Locate your water main in the event you need to shut it off in an emergency.
  • Drain all garden hoses.
  • If you go on vacation, leave the heat on, set to at least 65 degrees.

8) Prepare Landscaping & Outdoor Surfaces

  • Trim trees if branches hang too close to the house or electrical wires.
  • Move sensitive potted plants indoors or to a sheltered area.

9) Prepare an Emergency Kit

  • Make sure you have flashlights and plenty of batteries for use during a power outage.
  • Find the phone numbers for your utility companies and keep them handy. – Cities in Kansas. – Cities in Missouri.
  • Store extra bottled water and non-perishable food supplies (including pet food, if you have a pet), blankets and a first-aid kit in a dry and easy-to-access location.

10) Your Car

  • Make sure your windshield scraper is in your car.
  • Check your tire wear to make sure your tires will perform well in ice and snow conditions.
  • Replace windshield wipers and wiper fluid.
  • Make sure your defrost and heater work.
  • Make sure your tire pressure is good.

Be sure to disconnect your garden hoses this Fall!

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Garden HoseDuring the summer, it’s fine to leave your garden hose coiled up and connected at the spigot so that you can use it at any time.

But leaving your hoses out in fall/winter (and still connected to the spigot) can have real consequences.

Your garden hose will likely freeze if there’s any water left in it and the temperature drops below freezing.

More importantly, the faucet itself can be damaged which can be an expensive repair. As water freezes, it expands. With nowhere to expand in the faucet, the frozen water can crack and damage the spigot. Once a spigot is cracked after being frozen, it has to be replaced.

And, when the temperature rises above freezing, you will have free-flowing water inside your house!

Disconnect the hoses to protect the spigot… and your house!

SpigotWhen you disconnect your hose from the faucet this fall, it’s important that you completely drain the water that might still be inside.

The easiest way to do this is to turn off the spigot, and then use a spray nozzle to get water out of the hose. Next, detach the hose and make sure any remaining water is removed. Gravity will help you with this. Simply walk the length of your disconnected hose and keep the portion you are holding above your waist. Any excess water will travel away from you in the hose as you continue walking the length of the hose. Once you get to the end, you should have an empty garden hose!

 

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.

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

Busy is a four letter word.

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By Oretta Croushore, Property Manager at Home Rental Services

Several weeks ago, Kandy shared with the team an article she read titled “Busy is a Four Letter Word.” We all chuckled at the title while nodding our heads in understanding. Being too busy is an excuse we all use. It’s the adult version of “the dog ate my homework.”

Kandy offered up a challenge; remove “busy” from your vocabulary entirely.

I took the challenge and realized, it’s a little harder than I thought it would be. The challenge has made me hyper aware of saying I’m busy. I catch it trying to slip out of my mouth and have to slurp it back in like spaghetti. When I hear someone else using it in conversation, it feels like an explosion going off in the room. The Busy-bombs are everywhere!

How do you eliminate a word which is so commonly used?

Busy is a four letter word.The fact is, we’re all busy. Everyone you know, do business with, see at the grocery store or run into at an event… It reminds me of when we were trying to clean up our language when our daughter started learning to talk. In my house, we changed all of our regular four letter words to “rainbow.” Riding in the car with me, you might hear “That rainbow just cut me off!”

I’m not suggesting you replace the word “busy”. I doubt your boss is going to love to hear you were too rainbow to turn that report in.

Try to pay attention to how many times you’re saying it throughout the day. What else could you say instead? You’re not looking for another excuse but you’re holding yourself accountable.

Instead of saying “Mom, I’ve been too busy to call you.” Be honest. “I’ve started to call you so many times and it’s always the wrong time. Can we set up a coffee date?” Get it on the calendar. Whatever it is. If you can’t seem to find a time to do it, schedule a time.

I’m a big fan of my calendar.

Google Calendar and TasksMy work calendar has appointments on it but it also has reminders. If I need to follow up on something in 10 days, I set a reminder. I have things in my job which have to be done on certain days of the month; they go on the calendar. In my personal life, everything from Girl Scout meetings, doctor’s appointments, to coffee with my best friend, it always goes on the calendar.

I have a group of friends that tries to get together for brunch every few months. We try to schedule the next brunch when we meet for the current one. Last time we forgot. We said we would get it done and we didn’t. That was in October. Don’t worry, the brunch bunch has recovered and we’re set for February. The point is, it’s not pretentious to schedule things, it’s how you make sure they get done.

Google Tasks

GoogleHave you tried the Google Task feature? I love this thing. There are days where I have so much to do, I can’t see past the weeds. Yesterday was one of those days for me. I told my co-workers I felt like a squirrel trying to cross the highway.

I opened up Google Tasks and started my list. I put everything in that I had to get done that day. Here’s my little secret with list making… I always include something I’ve just done or I’m about to finish. It makes me feel motivated when I get to cross something off.

I like that I can drag and drop items so they are in prioritized order. Let’s be honest, we won’t ever get anything done if we don’t prioritize. My family would eat a lot of cereal dinners if I didn’t put making dinner ahead of other things which need to get done in the evening. If it’s not Google Tasks, then find the thing that works for you. You deserve to not only eliminate the busy word from your vocabulary, but eliminate that overwhelmed feeling from your life.

You will be surprised at how much more accountable you hold yourself when you work to eliminate the “I’m so busy” excuse. Don’t let busy be a status symbol for you. Be the person who embraces the choices they make each day. Know what you are going to do and when you are going to do it. The next time someone says “how have you been?” Give a response that purposely excludes the word “busy”. I bet you’ll be surprised at how good it feels.

Incentives? Here are three ways to generate interest in your rental property.

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

IncentivesIn a marketing cycle that’s experiencing fewer qualified applicants than you would like to see, what are some ways to spur new interest and activity for your rental? There are actually a number of things you can do, but for the sake of this conversation, lets focus on just a few of my favorite INCENTIVE options.

Incentive for the LEASE START DATE

In this scenario, you offer a concession on rent for a lease that starts on a certain date. This creates a sense of urgency for the prospect to sign a lease in order to secure the lower price. For example, you might be advertising your property for rent at a rate of $1,750 but advertise that you’ll drop the price to $1,650 for a lease that starts by a certain date. Another option is to offer two weeks or one month of free rent.

Incentive for the LEASE END DATE

This scenario is basically the opposite of the one above. In this situation, you’re wanting the prospect to sign a lease that will end in a better time of year based on renewals. (Typically this means May, June or July.) In this example, if you have the property listed at $1,750, you would offer a lower rate with a lease that ends in your preferred month. (Generally only offered as an option to secure a lease that is longer than 12 months.)

Incentive to provide a PROPERTY IMPROVEMENT

With this promotion, you can combine the timing scenarios above (lease start and/or end date) and instead of a lesser rent, you offer to provide an upgrade or amenity to the property. For example, with a lease that starts by _____ or ends _____ we will install a WiFi thermostat or WiFi doorbell, you pick! This is a great incentive option as the improvement becomes an added value to the property in the future.

The first two of the above incentives are geared more toward securing a new tenant. While the third option can also be utilized to secure a new tenant, we have found it’s also a great way to motivate a current tenant to renew their lease.

If you haven’t tried using a leasing incentive, I encourage you to do so. These have all proven to be quite effective for our investor clients!

“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!