Rental property in San Francisco can be a lucrative investment, providing a steady stream of income every month. However, being a landlord can also be a major source of stress, headaches and heartache, from screening tenants to collecting rents to upkeep and evictions.
So how do you manage your San Francisco investment property or properties while simultaneously managing your sanity? For starters, follow these top ten tips.
1. There’s An App For That
Whether you’re managing two or twenty rental properties, it’s critical that you stay organized. Losing track of repair receipts might mean a hit to your tax deductions. Misplacing a lease agreement may bite you later if you’re forced to evict. Utilizing property management software, you can keep everything safely in one place. Some apps even enable you to collect and track rent payments, manage repair requests, screen tenants, and list a vacant rental on sites like Zillow and HotPads.
For more, check out these reviews of 2019’s best property management apps:
2. Think Long-Term
As a landlord, you’re likely not in it for a quick flip. You want to extract the most income from your property over a period of years, even decades. With that in mind, consider undertaking renovations and improvements that may cost more right now but will pay off in the long run. You might think about adding in-unit laundry, updating the kitchen and bathrooms, or installing soundproof windows in street-side rooms. It can take a few years for these investments to fully pay off, but in the end you will recoup your costs (and more) with a property that’s more attractive to future tenants.
3. Don’t Overlook Landscaping
The next time you’re heading to your rental property, try an experiment: Drive past first without going inside, and take note of the exterior. Does it look inviting, or does it look unkempt and overgrown? Based on the view, would a potential renter want to see more? You don’t need a veritable Garden of Eden outside your property, but a well-kept exterior space is important in maintaining your rental’s curb appeal. Plant some low-maintenance foliage, and set up a system to manage its health. Contract a landscaping company if need be—in the end, you’ll benefit from more renter interest and higher rents.
4. Show Your Tenants Some Love
The stress of being a landlord can vary greatly based on the quality of your tenants. To ensure that the good ones stick around, address their concerns promptly. If something at your property needs repair, express to your tenants that you are working hard to solve the problem, and do your best to get things fixed as soon as possible. Just like you want good tenants, your tenants want a good landlord who cares about more than just receiving their monthly payment. Write them a letter of appreciation for prompt payments and keeping the place clean, or simply thank them for treating your property with care the next time you’re around.
5. Sweeten the Deal
Since a thank-you note may not always be enough to retain your good tenants, consider offering them concessions such as a free month of rent or an extension of their current lease. It’s always easier to keep your current tenants than to find new ones, so losing a bit of income in the short term is well worth it to save you the time and effort of finding and screening a new batch of applicants. If a lease is set to expire during slower months like the holiday season, you can propose an extension to keep your tenants in the property until a busier time of year when new tenants will be easier to find.
6. Keep a Record of Your Property’s Condition
To protect your investment, be sure to keep detailed records of your property’s condition between tenants. Before new tenants move in, take photos and video of the entire property and save them securely in multiple systems like your computer and the cloud (a la Dropbox or Google Drive). When your new tenants are ready to move in, prepare a checklist and walk through the property together. Note the condition of each space, and have your tenants sign the checklist to acknowledge that the walkthrough was conducted.
7. Analyze the Market
If you’re getting ready to put your property on the rental market, first perform a comparable rental analysis. Just like selling a home, your best resource for pricing a rental is to compare your own property to others in the area. Look at rental properties of similar size, bedroom and bathrooms, and amenities. Make note of their rental prices, and adjust your target price based on differences like recent upgrades or problem areas. Losing rent income due to vacancy is your greatest enemy as a landlord, so it’s important to maintain a competitive, fair price.
8. Require Rental Insurance
This is frequently overlooked by landlords, but it can save you a heap of trouble. Requiring your tenants to have rental insurance will help if your tenants cause more damage than their security deposit covers. If a forgetful tenant leaves on the stove and starts a fire, or leaves the sink running and causes water damage, your landlord insurance might not cover all of the damage. You may be able to recover damages from your tenants’ renters insurance. In addition, your tenants will be more secure from losses to their own personal belongings. Renters insurance is a benefit to everyone.
9. Work With a Real Estate Attorney
Whether you are drafting a lease agreement or seeking an eviction for a deadbeat tenant, it is eminently helpful to work with a real estate attorney who knows federal, state and local laws inside and out. As we all know, attorneys don’t necessarily come cheap; but making sure that your i’s are properly dotted and your t’s are well-crossed is worth the price. While on its face a contract or a court filing may look simple enough, it can set you back months of time and thousands of dollars to get something wrong.
10. Treat it Like a Business
Ultimately, your rental properties are like any business investment, and you should treat them as such. Focus on cash flow: pursue late rents and do not hesitate if eviction is required. Invest in improvements that will net higher rents. Follow laws and ordinances to the letter, including Fair Housing and zoning rules. Maintain your property to high standards. And most of all, if you cannot afford the time and effort of being a hands-on landlord (which can be considerable), then consider hiring a property management company. You’ll lose a portion of your rental income, but the majority of the stress that comes with managing a property will be off your hands. Not a bad tradeoff.
We’re Happy to Help
As your local San Francisco real estate experts, we have years of experience helping our clients buy and sell investment property in the area. In addition, we have a broad professional network of trusted vendors, and we are always happy to recommend a contact for any of your investment property needs. Whether you’re looking for a real estate lawyer, a painter, a photographer for your rental listing, or any other industry pro, we are well acquainted with some of the absolute best. Let us know how we can help!