Your Foundation Needs to be Watered!

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We work with hundreds of people moving into the Kansas City area. We spend a lot of time educating our clients about our city, but also about how to take care of the properties they rent.  One of the things we explain to new renters is that many parts of Kansas City are built on clay soil.  Clay is a very interesting and unique material to build on. The Clay is constantly expanding and contracting. That means the house they are renting is constantly expanding and contracting as the temperatures and seasons change. With this movement, we start to see cosmetic cracks on the interior along with the exterior. These cosmetic cracks will eventually turn into structural cracks if not taken care of.

The goal is to create as little movement as possible in your home’s foundation. In order to do this, you must water your foundation when it is hot out. You need to keep a consistent amount of water around your foundation.

This can be accomplished in a couple of ways. If you have an automatic sprinkler system, you should be fine as long as the water reaches all the way to the house. If you are manually watering with a sprinkler, make sure you cover the entire foundation, not just the front and back of the house. You need to be watering the sides of your foundation also.

You could also use soaker hoses. These hoses, usually black, should be placed 12-18 inches away from the house. You do not want to put them right up against the slab because too much water could get stuck under the slab and the house could rise. You’re just looking for consistent moisture around the foundation. Using the soaker hoses about 10-15 minutes 3-4 days a week in the summer will help you save thousands on future foundation repair in the future. It’s a simple, easy fix for hot, dry summers, and there’s no excuse for a bad foundation when it’s part of everyday house maintenance.

Are you watering your foundation?  Do you have any additional tips?  Please comment!

Managing Your Thermostat – Never Turn It Off!

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We are writing this post as a public service announcement.  It is the direct result of something that happened with one of our owners recently.  The owner was moving out of their current home and we had a contract for a renter.  The owner assumed that the move in date was going to happen within a week but in reality, the move  in date was scheduled for 3 weeks later.  (We had told the owner in email and in the contract when the move in date was going to occur)

The owner turned the thermostat off completely.  We have been having 100+ degree days for the past few weeks and the home got incredibly hot.  Mold likes to grow in dark, enclosed spaces with a water source… so guess what happened?  Mold started growing under the sink in the kitchen.  This is going to cost the owner hundreds of dollars for remediation and could have easily been avoided by leaving the thermostat on to keep the house at a reasonable temperature.

So the public service announcement is:
Don’t ever turn off your thermostat completely off, no matter what time of year.  The risks for damage to your home are too great.

Instead, adjust your thermostat appropriately if you are going to leave for any extended period of time.

Finding and setting the optimal temperature on your thermostat takes trial and error.
Taking the time to get it right will save you money!

In the winter set your thermostat no higher than 68 or 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This is of course only a guideline. If you have a personal preference to higher temperatures, live in a particularly extreme climate or have a medical condition, adjust accordingly.

In the summer or warmer months, we recommend you set your thermostat no lower than 73 – 78 degrees.

Remember, little adjustments in temperature really do make a difference! For example, lowering the temperature by one single degree in the winter has the potential to save you about 3% on your heating bill! And lowering the temperature from 70 to 64 for 8 hours a day in the winter can potentially save you around 10% on your heating bill!

We highly recommend a programmable thermostat.  You can easily program these thermostats to adjust the temperature automatically for the hours you are away at work. No one is home, so the thermostat doesn’t need to maintain a higher or lower temperature.  It can then kick back prior to you getting home so that when you walk in the door you feel comfortable.

If you go on vacations, make sure to take into account the fact that no one will be around. Again, don’t ever shut off the thermostat entirely!

Turning down the thermostat too low in the winter can actually make your furnace work harder and increase your costs since the house and furniture in it will need to be reheated as well as the air. Additionally, turning down the temperature too low may allow the water pipes in your home to freeze.  An incredible amount of damage can be done if your pipes freeze, so saving a few dollars in a given month is not worth the risk.

If you have any advice or suggestions related to managing the thermostat in your home, please comment!  We would love to hear from you.

Avoid a Fire – Choose the Right Bulbs!

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We are writing this post as a public service reminder that bad things can happen if you aren’t paying attention to the wattage of bulbs and fixtures.  We recently went to a home because the renters were reporting that light bulbs in the master bedroom and laundry room weren’t working.  They had replaced the bulbs and checked the circuit breakers, but still no light.  When we inspected the fixtures, we were shocked to find burnt and melted wiring and damage to the fixtures!  These were signs of significant heat damage and thankfully the problem was caught before there was a fire.

There are a ton of choices in terms of buying light bulbs for the various fixtures in your home.  There are many shapes, sizes, colors and wattages to choose from.  (For more info, check out this article at the American Lighting Association’s web site)

The most important thing to do when you have this many choices in bulbs is to pay close attention to the wattage rating of the light fixture where you will install the bulb.  On light fixtures, a sticker specifies the maximum light bulb wattage acceptable. You can use an incandescent light bulb with a lower wattage than specified, but using a higher wattage is dangerous.  If you choose a bulb that has too much wattage for the fixture you are going to place it in, you run the serious risk of damaging the housing, wiring and starting a fire within your home.  All of these are caused by the amount of heat generated by a light bulb.

Heat
Incandescent light bulbs produce heat in addition to light, and heat output increases with wattage.

Light Fixtures

Because of the heat generated, using a light bulb with a higher wattage than specified may cause the light fixture to overheat. Overheating damages the fixture and may melt the socket holding the light bulb, causing a fire.

Wiring

The wiring inside the light fixture may become brittle due to the heat from a bulb with wattage exceeding the specifications. In some cases, especially when wires inside walls and ceilings are affected, fires occur.

Enclosed Fixtures

Using light bulbs with the wrong wattage inside enclosed light fixtures, such as glass globes or wall sconces, increases the risk of damage or fire because the heat is less able to dissipate in the enclosed area.

Royals Outing – We Won Stealing Home Plate!

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We think it is important to spend time as a team outside of work.  For the summer of 2011, we decided it would be fun to go to a Royals game together.  We have seen 100 degree days for the past couple of weeks so we ended up in air conditioned Suite 29, right over 1st base.  The game started at 7pm and there was a lot of excitement at the end… the game went to 11 innings and the Royals won it when Alex Gordon stole home!  For more game details, check out the excellent article on Royals.com.

A couple of people were late arriving because they were working late helping our clients!  It was amazing to see every single person from our staff at the game.  It is hard to get 100% participation with so many schedules involved, but we planned far enough out to give everyone time to get it locked in on the calendar.  We had a great time at the game, even though the temperature around 6pm was around 104 degrees!  If you haven’t been to the stadium since they did all the renovations, you really need to check it out.  Here are a couple of pictures showing how amazing the stadium looks now!

Online Reputation – We Should All Be Paying Attention

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We have embraced social media as a way to stay in touch with our owners, renters, vendors, friends and family.  The impact of social media on our business continues to evolve and we learn more every day.  The newest aspect of social media that we are working on is our online reputation.

There are dozens of web sites where people can go and post reviews about a company.  Some of these include YellowPages.com, Yelp.com, YahooLocal and Citysearch.

We realized that we need to pay attention to these sites.  We need to know what people are saying and encourage feedback about how we do business.  In our experience, people that are frustrated will take the time to complain to the world.  People that are happy might not take the time to tell the story publically.

If you have done business with us, we would appreciate an honest review from you on any of the sites below.  (No, we are not asking for 5 stars unless we have earned a 5-star rating)  Some of these review sites will allow you to sign in with your Facebook Account, making it easier for you to post feedback.  Thanks in advance for taking the time to post a review!

If you have not heard of these sites, it would be worth your time doing a search to see if your company is there and what people are saying about you!

Home Rental Services on Yellow Pages
http://www.yellowpages.com/leawood-ks/mip/home-rental-services-inc-461723559?lid=171375366

Home Rental Services on Yelp
http://www.yelp.com/biz/home-rental-services-inc-overland-park

Our Renters Usually Renew Their Leases – Here’s Why!

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We continue to see the trend that our renters are renewing their leases.

– Since March of this year, we have had almost 200 leases due to expire.  (That is 200 homes coming up for lease renewal)
– 70% of the current tenants have extended their residency another term (usually another year).

Lease renewal is a win-win for both the home owner and the renter.  Our renters are happy with the homes they are staying in because they have chosen to renew and don’t have to move.  Our home owners benefit from uninterrupted cash flow and a lease extension helps avoid unnecessary wear and tear on the property in the event of vacancy.

We believe our service plays a big part in the decision of 70% of the renters to extend their residency:

  • Ease of paying rent electronically
  • Timely resolution to maintenance issues with professional, licensed, friendly vendors
  • Convenient electronic statements and access to accounts
  • Ease of reporting emergency maintenance
  • One main contact in their Property Manager that they can trust

Before Renewing
Before we renew a lease, Home Rental Services (HRS) sends an agent to visit the home to make sure the renters are taking care of it, as well as to check for preventative maintenance that the owners may need to be aware of.  It is to a home owners advantage to stay on top of deck staining, gutter cleaning, and updates in the home while it is rented and they have rent revenue coming in.  If the homeowner waits until a renter moves out, the house is vacant (no money coming in) and they need to invest in maintenance and improvements to prepare the home for re-listing.  We work with our owners ongoing to get required maintenance done while the homes are rented to avoid this situation.

Once the walk through is complete, HRS collects the signed lease and paperwork from the renters.  The owner receives a copy of the signed lease, and a report from the renewal walk through that is usually accompanied by updated photos of the interior and exterior of the home.

By documenting everything and following a procedure, we make sure that both the owner and the renter are on the same page in terms of expectations.  By striving for an environment of “no surprises”, we make everyone more comfortable.  We believe that is why the majority of our renters choose to renew their lease instead of moving on.

We would love to hear from you!  Have you had a good experience with us during the lease renewal process?  Tell us!  Are there some things that we could improve?  Tell us!

Dymo LabelWriter – Quick Labels and Easy Postage

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At Home Rental Services, we do all that we can to be a paperless office.  There are some things that we are required by law to keep physical paper copies of.  We organize paperwork in various folders with labels.  Historically, we would print labels for these folders off of a sheet of Avery labels.  This caused problems because we had to reuse sheets of labels and getting the right one to print was not an easy process.  Enter the Dymo LabelWriter Turbo 450.

The Dymo LabelWriter is a small label printer that sits on your desktop.  Its sole purpose is to print individual labels as you need them!  For example, if you need to mail an envelope and need a professional label, all you have to do is open the Dymo Label Software and print a single label for that person.  The Dymo Label software integrates with your Outlook contacts (and other contact databases) so that you simply check a box next to the person you are printing a label for.  You can also type in the text of what you want to appear on a label and then print it.  If you need to print dozens or even hundreds of labels, the Dymo can handle that as well… printing around 50 labels per minute!

Not only does the Dymo LabelWriter print labels, it will also print postage!  You can buy the Dymo LabelWriter desktop mailing solution from NewEgg.com for $225.  Dymo has partnered with Endicia.com to provide internet based postage.  Once you have the LabelWriter and Postage Scale connected to your computer, you set up a free account with Endicia.  All you pay for is the actual postage you use… no monthly fees.

The Dymo LabelWriter has streamlined our process and the results look more professional.  Throw in the added benefit of instant postage whenever you need it and this is a powerful combo to improve your office efficiency.  We would love to hear if you have ever used one of these label printers or if you might consider getting one after reading this article!

Paul Volunteers to Assist with Joplin Tornado Cleanup Efforts

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We appreciate our team at Home Rental Services. Everyone works hard to make our Owners and Renters happy.  We are also proud to see them go above and beyond when giving back to the community.

Paul is a Property Manager for Home Rental Services.  Recently, Paul volunteered a day of his time to go to Joplin to help with the cleanup efforts.  He went with his church, Garnett Nazarene, part of a larger group of Nazarene churches representing almost 600 people that volunteered to help.  The pictures below include one of the houses that Paul’s team worked on… there is a before and after picture.  It took them almost two hours to clear the brush in just one yard.

The other pictures give you a sense of the damage that was done.  The crushed fire truck.  The hospital full of holes.  A red sports car crushed by a tree.  Paul took dozens of pictures because you rarely see this kind of damage.  There were 2×4 boards stuck into the sides of stores that had been blowing around before being embedded like an arrow.  Gigantic trees that had been standing for decades completely uprooted, leaving a hole full of water.

When something of this magnitude happens, especially so close to home, it is important to do what you can to help your neighbor.  Paul demonstrated that in his volunteer efforts.  We appreciate that Paul has taken action instead of thinking about all the reasons why he might not have time to help.  If you would like to help, whether it is monetary or physical labor, there are a ton of ways you can get involved.  The Kansas City Star has a great article on specific ways you can help.

Click on any of the pictures below to view the larger version:

Be Prepared for Disaster – Tornadoes Close to Home

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This past week, we have been in the middle of significant tornado activity!  The tornado sirens sounded yesterday, May 25th here in Overland Park and we spent an hour and a half sheltered in the concrete stairwells of our ten story office building.  Our facility management team conducts fire safety drills on a regular basis and we all know what to do.  However, they do not perform tornado safety drills and it was a confusing process in the middle of a scary situation.  We weren’t sure where to stand or how far down the steps to go.  We weren’t supposed to block the ground floor stairwell.  With ten floors, there were people lining the stairs most of the way up the building and the human instinct was to get down and out. We had heard that a tornado funnel had formed at 135th and Metcalf… just 20 blocks south of us.  Keep in mind this was on the heels of the tragedy that happened in Joplin, Missouri on May 22nd where more than 100 people were killed and hundreds injured during a tornado.  (More on the Joplin tornado here)

As a result of how things went during the tornado warning, we have educated ourselves on the process and are better prepared to deal with a tornado scare next time.  But what if this had been the real deal?  We have learned our lesson and are thinking more proactively about what to do in the event of an emergency.  Take it from us…  don’t wait until you get a scare to educate yourself on what to do in the event of a disaster.  You owe it to yourself, your family, your friends and your staff to be prepared.

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)  has a list of disasters and how to protect yourself and your loved ones during such an event.  We recommend that you review what to do before, during and after a tornado so that you are better prepared.  Whether you are in an office building, a school, or your home, it is your responsibility to know what to do in case a tornado develops and starts doing damage.  The FEMA web site has an easy way for you to learn what to do located here.

Here is an excerpt from the FEMA site on what to do during a tornado.

If you are in: Then:
A structure (e.g. residence, small building, school, nursing home, hospital, factory, shopping center, high-rise building) Go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level. If there is no basement, go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck. Do not open windows.
A vehicle, trailer, or mobile home Get out immediately and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter. Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes.
The outside with no shelter Lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands. Be aware of the potential for flooding.Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter.Watch out for flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.

Video of the Twister in Joplin

Rental Activity Surges in May

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We love helping people find a home to rent, and May has been busy!  Over the previous three days from Saturday through Monday, we have received twenty-two applications to rent the homes that we manage.  That is a significant amount of traffic for a weekend!  One of the interesting things about the people that we are helping is where they are relocating from.  We have people coming to Kansas City from Spain, Korea, Sweden and Australia.  Our agents enjoy showing these individuals and families the many things to love about Kansas City as they find them the perfect home to rent.

One question that you may ask when hearing these kinds of numbers is “How do they keep track of everything?”

We use three important pieces of technology to make sure everything is handled quickly and efficiently:

  1. When a prospective tenant finds the home that they would like to rent, the first step is to run a background check and make sure they have good credit history no prior criminal activity.  We use a system that can provide the credit history instantly and the criminal background check within 24 hours.
  2. Once the background check is complete, we use a web based contract management system called EchoSign to present the offer to lease from the prospective tenant to the owner of the home.
  3. Throughout the process, our agents use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system called ZOHO to track each person or family that they are working with.

What all this means is that we have great systems in place to manage the entire process, and the majority of our staff has visibility into where each prospective tenant is at during the process!  In living up to our belief that “Trust is the Key”, we understand the importance of keeping track of everything and technology allows us to do that efficiently!

We would love to hear your thoughts if you used EchoSign while working with us!  Did it make the process easier for you?