Read this article. I originally wrote it for another audience, but it may help you in the future.
Remember, land lording is a game of probabilities and statistics. There are good tenants in every category, but you are looking for the highest probability of success, not the needle in a haystack. Success is defined a tenant that pays rent, leaves the unit in good order, and you make money.
Tenant turnover is your number one expense that you have any control over. Tenant turnover expenses include vacancy, legal expenses for forced vacancies, maintenance and supplies to return the unit back to rentable condition, advertising and the hours spent showing. You can defer some maintenance, but it is still there. It will eventually catch up to you. You cannot avoid interest, taxes, insurance, utilities or many of the other expenses, unless you are going out of business.
If your unit can be considered a high quality unit, whether or not you are able to charge a high rent is up to you and your marketing program. You have to have the unit capable to get the high rents. You must have a great city, great schools, great parks, and overall, a great neighborhood. The only thing left is how you maintain your own building. While you may not get $2000 per month, your units should be getting as high of a rent per square foot as any other comparable unit in your city.
There are four distinct types of rental markets. High quality unit, high quality tenants; High quality unit, low-quality tenants; Low quality unit, high quality tenants; and low quality unit, low quality tenants. These can be pictured in the following matrix.
High Quality Unit => High Quality Renter => High Profit
Low Quality Unit => High Quality Renter => Medium Profit
Low Quality Unit => Low Quality Renter => Low Profit
High Quality Unit => Low Quality Renter => Lose Money
The typical high quality renter is demanding. They know they can go anywhere. They have good career oriented jobs. Many have a college degree. They have high credit scores, 650 would be on the lower end of their range. Typically they have few, if any, children. They drive nice cars. They want amenities. Laundry in the unit, workout rooms, heated garages, elevators, security buildings, swimming pools. They want all of the high maintenance cost amenities, and they are willing to pay for them. They want a nice high quality place, and will get one.
Low quality renters can be characterized by a renter with a low credit score, sub 600. They are just looking for a place to stay; no major amenities are necessary. They typically have more children than average, and a lower paying job. They switch jobs often. They have a job, not a career. They may have several criminal arrests. They move in other people in your unit and can exceed the maximum capacity. They change their contact information regularly. They are hard on properties, and do not have enough money to put down for the damage deposit. They are forced to pay too much of their income in housing expenses, as they do not make enough income. Their past landlords are always slum lords, and all of their ills are someone else¡¦s fault.
Renting to a high-quality renter is easy. Getting these renters to sign a lease is the difficult part. They pay their rent on time, and stick to themselves. They are not going to do damage beyond normal ¡§wear and tear¡¨. If you can ¡¥hook¡¦ them, you can make money from them. Lots of money. But be prepared for them to move out when they buy a house or just decide they want to move to a ritzier area of town. They may want the flexibility of a month-to-month lease after the first year. They rent because they want to, not because they have to. They pay their rent, and leave your place looking like they moved in. Your turnover costs are minimal. Whether you get top dollar because you offer the many amenities that a high quality renter requires, or offer incentives to entice them to sign on or stay, you are making money.
Renting to a low-quality renter seems easy, at first. They are not fussy. They sign up for your units very readily, and want to move in right away and start paying rent. They want to get out of the neighborhood they are living in. They may receive money from the County to help you sway your decision in their favor. They know you may be slightly higher price that the other similar apartments, but they also know they will probably not be accepted to rent in those other apartments. They make barely enough to live on, and will pay a high percentage of their income on housing. You think you have hit the jackpot with getting a rent higher than you expect. Often, they will not have enough money to pay the damage deposit, and will offer to pay it in installments after they move in. Charging a high rent to a low-quality renter is easy; being able to collect it is the problem.
The low quality renter will take their toll soon after signing the lease. If you rent is too high, they will be late with their rent quite often. They may have more people living in the apartment than should be. They may not own the cleaning supplies necessary to keep the apartment clean, not even a vacuum cleaner for a carpeted apartment. They cannot afford to buy a vacuum either. They have a car that needs fixing and that cost delays your rent. The damages will add up fast. Dirt everywhere, broken windows, drawers, doors and door knobs, dirty appliances. You may start to have mold issues. They make your common area dirty and do not pick up after themselves. You may see insect infestations. You other tenants do not want to live near them, and may start to think about moving out. The list goes on and on.
If you specialize in low quality renters, with a low quality apartment, you can make some money. Section 8 would be included in this category. You must keep your rents affordable, less than three times their income. You need a low maintenance, low cost unit, and you need to manage it that way. You charge only what a low quality renter can pay and be able to live somewhat comfortable. You must be a micro-manager, making sure every minor detail of your lease is followed. Turnovers are low cost as you do the bare minimum. Cheap carpet, quick turns, fixing only what is absolutely necessary. You can often get away with having appliances that do not work properly. You buy used appliances to replace the broken ones. Fix things that have gone beyond their useful life, rather than replace. You must overlook the extra effort that you need to stay on top of things such as collecting rent, enforcing lease provisions, and fixing items that left broken might be dangerous. You paint only when it has to be painted, not when it should be. Cleaning the carpet rather than replacing it. Leaving the holes in the doors and walls, or doing a quick fix, even if it is not cosmetically appealing. You do only the minimal common area maintenance that you can get away with. You can charge extra fees whenever you can, especially late fees. You evict quickly, and make the unit turn quickly. You only fix only what the tenants complain about, not what you know is broken. By running this type of bare bones operation, you are able to defer maintenance, and pocket some income, for a while. This type of operation is the proverbial ¡¥slum lord¡¦.
The real money losing proposition occurs when you have a low quality renter, leasing a high quality apartment. This is a recipe for losing money. You cannot win renting an apartment to a tenant that cannot afford it, or is a large credit risk. When your rents are in excess of three times your tenant¡¦s income, and they have a poor credit score, statistically you will lose. You are better off at the casino.
The rent is too high for the tenant¡¦s income, leading to rent payment issues. You rented to them because no high quality renter would apply for your unit at the price you were asking. The carpet and other fixtures in the apartment are easily broken or ruined, and are of a higher quality than a low quality renter can afford to replace. You apartment becomes dirty, carpet ruined and they do not tell you when there is a maintenance issue. Your turnover costs are high, due to the cost of replacing or repairing the damage to the original condition. The only way to make money in this situation is if they stay in your apartment year after year. Any damages do not have to be repaired until they leave. Maybe you have to negotiate a lower rent, as you know when they more the place needs major work. Odds are, with your rent being too high for their income, you are forced to evict in less than a year and have to pay to restore your unit. You lose money on them almost every time.
Target high quality renters to maximize your income. Advertise where they look, the internet. Tenants that do not have a computer are generally not good tenants. Use multiple websites for maximum exposure. Avoid hard copy print mediums; you do not want a tenant that does not have access to a computer. Show your property after work and weekends. Tenants that can see it during the day are either not working, or shift workers. Both are not great to have in a multi-family unit. Avoid smokers. They make your turnovers more costly, and make the common areas smell. Price your unit at a point your unit is a better value than any other. Have a nice place that you would live in yourself. Do all the maintenance that is required. Upgrade your unit in-between tenants.
When you have shown your unit several times to high quality renters, and they do not apply, adjust your price. Move your price to a point it is irresistible, and you will have many tenants to choose from. Lowering price, increases demand - Period. Let prospective tenants know your criteria, so subpar tenants do not even apply. You only want the cream of the crop of renters. Have a high rental standard, and do not deviate from it. Providing your unit is fit for a quality renter, if you lower your rent, you can increase your standard of who is appropriate to live in your building. That will help you find a good high quality renter.
If you cannot afford to wait for a high-quality renter, you cannot afford to rent to a low-quality renter. You are undercapitalized, and it¡¦s only a matter of time before you are put out of business by your own customers.