1. Contact References & Review Testimonials. The single most important thing to consider before hiring a manager is the experiences of past and current clients and tenants. Lots of agents talk a big game, but not everybody can back it up with solid client testimonials. It's always smart to check referrals provided to you by your potential manager. Keep in mind they will be weighted toward those with positive experiences (see more about this below) so do your own background check. Research the company online. Find reviews on common business pages like Google or Facebook. Find out the individual(s) who will be specifically dealing with your property and do some research on them as well via Facebook, LinkedIn, Zillow, etc. These sites are essentially the Better Business Borough crowd sourced and peer reviewed. They've become essential for professionals and are where the most comprehensive referrals and testimonials are gathered. Be wary of any business or individual not easily found online.
2. Find out how maintenance and emergencies are handled. Maintenance and emergencies will occur, even under the best manager's watch. How those issues are handled is the crux of a good management company. This might be the most important job of your manager as it is what most often leads to unhappy tenants, shabby properties, or larger issues. Responsiveness is the key. Tenants hate to wait for a response, but understand if it takes a while to resolve the problem. Scour tenant reviews for their experiences with maintenance and emergency calls as this is indicative of how they'll handle issues that arise at your rental(s).
Years of deferred maintenance can leave you with a much larger bill than paying a premium for an active and responsive manager who addresses issues quickly. Managers should have a responsive system in place and a long list of contractors to choose from for issues of every sort. Make sure you and your manager agree ahead of time on whether they'll handle issues immediately or if all work should be approved by you. Often owners set a $ limit on what managers can handle without prior approval to save both parties time when addressing smaller issues.
Be wary of any management company that will perform their work internally then bill you. I recommend owners pay contractors directly whenever possible. Funneling contractor work through a middleman manager can lead to overcharging and less than ideal transparency. Whether a company has their own employed contractors or uses third party vendors, you should expect invoices detailing the labor and materials that led to the total charge. If you do go with a manager that handles contractor work internally, question anything that seems out of step with industry standard pricing. A basic Google search can provide you with general estimates for how much certain work should cost. Keep in mind this pricing will vary with location and demand. If your management company is continuously coming in above industry averages for work they perform internally, or work that's billed through them, it's time to part ways.
3. Do they specialize in servicing your local area? Most areas have specific laws and ordinances when it comes to rental properties that might differ from state or national standards. Make sure your management company has listings and experience in your local market. Ask them about local regulations to make sure they're familiar with rental rules in your locale.
4. Lay out specific expectations. There is no standard job description for property managers. Make sure you discuss your specific expectations for screening, marketing, preparing the property between tenants, inspections, contractor coordination, collecting rent, emergencies, etc. Ideally, you'll want an outline of the job you agree to, in writing (even if just an email or text), before signing any contracts.
5. Review their standard documents. You don't want to go through all the trouble of vetting and hiring a management company only to find out their lease is not up to your standards. Ask to review all their standard contracts. Make sure to at least check out their standard Listing Contract, Management Contract, and Lease.
6. Trust your instinct. Do they want your business? You don't want to end up at the back end of a long line of clients for a company that doesn't value your business. If you aren't in a rush, see if companies follow up with you after your initial interviews. If they don't make an effort to get your business before you're even a client, don't expect excellent service if you do contract with them. Do you mesh with the manager? Find out who you'll primarily be directly dealing with and make sure you speak with them. If you don't think you'll get along with your manager, it's better to find that out during the interview process than when you're dealing with an emergency through them from the other side of the world. Are their clients happy? When speaking to client or tenant referrals, do you get the sense they're thrilled with their manager or just content? Take note if you get any sense that their responses are canned or wavering. Remember, these are the best of their best references, so their testimonials should reflect that.
7. Know what to ask. Come into your interview prepared with questions that are most important to you. Not only will this make sure you know everything you need to before tying yourself to a company, but it will let the management company know you're serious about your vetting process. Some examples of questions you might ask include:
What is your tenant screening process?
How many units do you manage and where are they located?
How do you process maintenance requests?
How do you handle emergencies?
How do you handle tenant turnover?
How long does it take to fill vacant units?
How does pricing work? Are there any additional costs such as advertising & photography?
Have you handled evictions? If so, how? For example, will your manager represent you in court?
I hope these tips help you find the best manager for your rental property! If you're looking for a manager in the Carlisle area, I'd be happy to interview for the job and provide dozens of references dating back to 2006. If you feel there's anything I should add to this article, feel free to contact me. Thanks for reading, and good luck finding your rental manager!