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5 Essential Questions to Ask a Property Manager

When deciding if property management company is right for you, you’ll likely speak to a property manager about their services. These questions will help you determine which ones might be a good fit.

So you’ve decided to hire a property manager.

Whether it’s because you no longer have the time to manage, you’ve acquired more properties, or you just want someone with a little more experience to handle your property, a property manager can likely help you with your problems.

Gone are the days where you’re forced to do your own maintenance, select your own tenants, and handle property accounting. These days there are hundreds of good property management companies to choose from that specialize in managing homes just like yours.

However, not every property management company is the same. Between different prices, philosophies, and services, it can be difficult to narrow down which company is right for you.

To help you through that process, we’ve come up with a list of 5 questions you should always ask a property manager.

  1. What kind of involvement do I have as an owner?
  2. How often do you do inspections? 
  3. How long are your properties typically on the market?
  4. How long will it take to make my home rent ready?
  5. How do you screen tenants? 

The goal of these questions is to help you figure out which companies will best be able to serve you and take good care of your properties.

1. What kind of involvement do I have as an owner and what decisions do I get to make?

All management companies are different. A property manager will serve as the middle man between the landlord and the tenant. This relationship works best when you let the property manager have the majority of the control.

If you’ve managed your own properties before, you might be hesitant to fully let go and let someone else do all of the work. However, if you are micromanaging everything the property manager does, it will likely slow down the process.

For example, when a property management company first takes on your property, one of the first things they’ll do is a walkthrough of your home. They’ll inspect the exterior, the front and backyards, and all of the rooms. The goal here is to see what aspects of your home might need to be updated or replaced. As the owner, you have the final say on which updates are made as you are the one paying for it.

Property managers will likely notify you about big repairs and emergency repairs as well. Minor fixes usually aren’t worth the extra time it takes to notify you.

2. How often do you do inspections?

Routine inspections are an important part of good property management. This insures that your property manager is monitoring the property and any issues that may arise with it.

A property management company should inspect the property a minimum of once per year, preferably every six months. They should have a checklist of what they are looking for, i.e. chipped paint, old water heaters, etc.

Annual inspections provide the property managers with the opportunity to catch any unreported maintenance issues or tenant-caused damage. It’s best to address these things quickly as letting a problem fester for a mere two extra months can cause a lot of damage.

The manager can also check for any unauthorized pets or tenants in the home. If someone did not put down a pet deposit at the start of their lease, but you see obvious pet damage, you can make note of that.

At some point, they will have to inspect the home while it is occupied. They should be letting tenants know beforehand when they plan to come, and at least one person should be home. This also allows for the tenant to bring up any issues or problems they may be having with the home.

Doing these inspections, annually or biannually, gives you and the property manager reassurance that things are running smoothly.

3. How long are your properties typically on market?

Make sure you ask what the company’s vacancy rate is. Property management companies should be tracking their vacancies. If they don’t know this number, it likely means they aren’t keeping track of their data.

Because of this, they won’t know how to fix long vacancies if they don’t know how many they have. A property should typically rent within 30 days of putting it on the market. If they have many properties that exceed this number, ask them why.

Longer vacancy rates could mean that the properties are priced too high. Sometimes a home gets priced too high because of the neighborhood it’s in or the features attached to the home. An experienced property management company should be able to take these factors into account and still accurately price the home.

It could also be because the property isn’t advertised properly. Poor quality photos that don’t do justice to your home can make it hard to garner interest in your property.

4. How long will it take to make my home rent ready?

It’s important to know how long it will take to get your home ready to put on the market. You might be expecting the property management company to put your house up as soon as they acquire it, but there are a couple factors that go into this.

When a property manager takes on your home, one of the first things they will do is evaluate your home for needed updates and repairs. A typical make-ready (the process to get your home ready for rent) at Good Life takes roughly 7-10 days, depending on the property.

Older homes will typically require more updates than modern homes. If your home has a lot of outdated light fixtures, old wallpaper, and peeling paint, it might take a few more days than expected.

While you might want them to speed things up and get the house on the market, it’s best to listen to their recommendations. When it comes to updating your home, they know what will attract and keep tenants. After all, nice homes typically attract nice tenants.

The goal of this question is to establish a timeline and keep expectations realistic.

5. How do you screen tenants?

Property management companies generally have specific criteria when it comes to screening tenants. For example, at Good Life, we check credit, criminal history, income verification, and rental references. This is standard for most property managers.

A property manager should always run a credit check on an applicant. A low credit score is usually below 619 and can affect your initial deposit amount. It is typically required that the applicants make at least 2-2.5 times the rent as a household. If a co-signer is required, this might be higher.

Another important aspect of tenant screening is checking their rental references, whether it be an apartment complex or former landlord. This allows you to confirm with their prior management that they paid rent on time and were good tenants.

It also ensures that they are not lying about previous rental history and clarifies exactly who they were renting from. Some people will put down a parent or friend as a landlord, thinking you might not check their references.

When it comes to the selection of the tenant, most property management companies will pick the tenant themselves. They usually recommend this because there are a number of Fair Housing laws that owners are not aware of. If they are responsible for picking the tenant and end up violating one of these laws, it can be an expensive mistake.

Even if you think, “Well, I don’t really want to rent my home to college students/a family with kids,” that is against the law. It might seem like a simple thing, but any kind of discrimination is discrimination. It’s best to leave it to the professionals as they likely have a written, non-discriminatory rental criteria.

There are typically two different ways property managers select a tenant–best qualified and first qualified. Best qualified is when the property manager waits to receive a decent amount of applications (this will vary depending on how quickly the property acquires them) before selecting a tenant. This allows them to screen multiple potential tenants and choose the one that is the best fit for your property.

First qualified means that the property manager will select the first tenant that qualifies, i.e. they have good credit, rental references, etc. The downside to this is that you don’t see as many applications. You might push through the first qualified but miss out on someone that had better credit or a longer list of rental references.

Final Thoughts

These five questions will help you decide which property management companies are right for you. They’ll also help you distinguish between an unorganized company and one that has the experience you need to successfully manage your properties.

At Good Life, we know that the search for a property manager can be a difficult process. To make this process easier, check out our 4 steps to hiring a San Diego property manager article! 

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Hi guys, Adam Manley here, Business Development Manager at Good Life Property Management. We know that hiring a property manager is a big decision and that you don’t want to make a mistake. And there are a lot of great companies here in the greater San Diego area that manage properties. And you’re probably interviewing all of them. So we put together a great list of five questions that you should be asking every property manager that you interview. The first question you want to ask is what involvement will you have as an owner and what control over the decisions that are made in the property will you have? Which is a really great question. Some management companies, for instance, will allow the owner to pick the tenant for the property where other management companies want to have the final say in the tenant that they approve for the property. Also some management companies may contact owners every time a repair request is needed for the property and how the owner wants to particularly handle that maintenance incident. Or sometimes the manager may have a threshold in which the take care of repairs under that dollar amount and if they’re over that amount they will contact you for approval. So if you’ve self-managed the property in the past, these are things that you’re really going to have to consider because some management companies may take that degree of control away from you. If you’ve been micromanaging the place for a really long time, these may come as a relief because these services are designed to take things off of your plate. The second question you’ll want to ask is how often does the company do inspections inside or at your property? Some management companies may only offer one per year without any photos or any supporting documentation of that. Maybe they’re only doing one before the tenant renews their lease or maybe they don’t do one at all. Some management companies offer annual or biannual inspections that also come with photos and videos and add a degree of transparency to the process as well. Why this is important is for a few reasons. One, it helps to catch things like unauthorized tenants or tenant cause damage before they actually cause larger issues inside of your home or go unnoticed altogether. The other reason is that we always want to make sure that the property is operating in a safe and habitable condition so that way your liability is lower and that the tenants are happy and safe inside of the property. The third question you’ll want to ask the property management companies that you’re interviewing is how long will your property be on the market? Which is a really great question. In any manager that isn’t keeping track of these statistics and can’t fire off a number right away, that should be your last conversation with that manager. It’s very important that this number is tracked as this is a crucial part of getting your property managed effectively and efficiently. Most property managers may offer some type of leasing guarantee in which they guarantee that the property will rent under a certain amount of time. Here at Good Life Property Management, our average days on market is right around 14 days and this is a number that we track and constantly try and improve on as well. So make sure you ask the property management company how long your property will be on the market for as this should be a crucial part in the decision you make and who you go with. The fourth question you should be asking property managers is how long will it take to make your home rent ready? This should also be a number that they’re very closely tracking as this impacts both the management company and of course your bottom line. Here at Good Life Property Management, we’ve identified that the average length of a turnover is somewhere between 7 to 10 business days. But your property could take more or less time depending on exactly what is needed at the time of move out. The last question you should be asking managers that you’re interviewing is how they screen applicants for your property. Property managers should have a written rental criteria that is available for all prospective renters to see and is also used to score all rental applications against. It should also design to find the best tenant for your property. You don’t want to be speaking with a manager who will let you know that they approved someone because they thought he or she was a good person. It should be done objectively and you should also screen all of the applications received on your property. So those are the five most important questions that we’ve identified when interviewing a property manager. And if you’re looking for more information on how to hire a property manager, we’re going to include a free link to our hiring a property manager guide below the video here. Thank you.