How to Be a Virtual Landlord

With remote working and managing businesses from home becoming more prevalent all over the world to reduce the spread of COVID-19, we’ve put together a guide for landlords about how to run their business from home during these uncertain times. Our goal with this guide is to offer helpful advice to all landlords. We have put together useful resources of not only TurboTenant features, but many additional resources, free tools, and articles to help landlords become fully virtual and navigate this new reality. 

Many landlords and property investors already manage their rentals remotely with the help of online tools and software. While it might be a transition for some, we hope this guide of helpful resources will enable you to become a virtual landlord through each step of the rental process.

#1: Listing Your Rental and Marketing

It’s easier than ever before to list your rental online and simply market it to multiple websites – many for free. Here are the essentials you need to know when marketing virtually:

  • Photos – Having high-quality photos is one of the most important steps to make your listing stand out. Most phone cameras take excellent quality photos. It’s also extremely easy to crop, lighten and edit them from your phone as well. This also makes uploading them to your listings extremely easy and efficient too. Here are quick tips on how to take real estate photography.
  • Listing Description – You want to make your listing as informative, accurate and enticing as possible for renters. Here is how to write the best rental description which includes tips like showing the price, remaining accurate and matching the words to the photos.
  • Virtual Tours – Virtual tours are a great option for landlords to show potential tenants exactly what the property looks like in real life. If you don’t have the time or the equipment for a 3D virtual tour, videos can also work. In the time of social distancing, think about offering a live tour via Facetime, Skype, WhatsApp or the other video chat tools we list below. 
  • Syndicating Listing – having your rental property listing on various property marketing sites will enable you to quickly gain reliable leads. Facebook MarketPlace, Craigslist, and Apartments.com are only some of the essential listing sites. Yard signs aren’t entirely obsolete, you can push prospects to your online listing and application process, and take advantage of car and foot traffic.  

#2: Online Rental Application

Using an online rental application has many benefits. In the crisis of a pandemic, the most important aspect is that you can stay in the comfort of your home and limit in-person contact with tenants while still getting the valuable information you need to narrow down your prospective renters.  

  • Online Rental Application – Ditching paper applications will help you, first off, avoid contact and stay germ-free, but, also, it makes it more secure, easy, and fast. Here is a look at what TurboTenant’s online rental application looks like which includes basic information about a renter, a renter’s housing history, employment and income, and past landlord references. Additionally, landlords can verify identity and income as renters can upload their ID, pay stubs, etc.
  • Further Screening Questions to Include – You can usually customize your rental application to include other questions you might want to know such as asking if they have pets, why they are interested in the property, or how long they are looking to rent. An online application makes it easier and faster for tenants to type and give thorough responses, versus just writing on a paper application. It streamlines the entire process and keeps it in the virtual world. 

#3: Online Tenant Screening, Interview, and E-signing

Luckily, most landlords who screen their tenants are already familiar with the process of getting a screening report that includes a background check, credit check, and eviction report online. Here are a few tips to streamline that process and take other steps such as interviewing into the virtual world. 

  • Online Background/Credit CheckTenant screening is one of the most important things you can do as a landlord and, luckily, you are able to do it online. Tenant background checks will pull information from government databases and credit bureaus concerning the tenant’s credit score and criminal history so you can protect yourself and your property. Here is how you can request a screening report using TurboTenant. This option is great if you don’t need an online application integrated into your process, and just need to pull the screening report. 
  • Social Media Profiles – Checking over applicants’ social media can help you gather more soft data such as information on their habits and lifestyle – however, make sure you aren’t discriminating against tenants and are following fair housing rules when using social media as part of your tenant screening.
  • Over the phone/video interview – Getting to know your tenants isn’t only for in-person conversations, but having phone conversations and using free resources such as Skype, Google Duo, Facetime, and Facebook Messenger will allow you to see the tenant face-to-face and have valuable conversations to see if they are a good fit for your property. 
  • E-signing – Once you have found a new tenant, uploading your lease and sending it out for an e-signature can all be done electronically as well. There are several online e-signature tools such as DocuSign, Adobe Sign, and Hello Sign to help you with this process.If you don’t have a lease, you can purchase one from Law Depot, upload it, assign signature fields and send out for an e-signature. 

#4: Paying Rent Online

Most in-person contact landlords have with renters is when they pay rent – luckily, technology has made it possible for online payments to eliminate the in-person contact and assist with social distancing.

  • Avoid Handling Cash, Checks, or In-Person Payments: Switching to an online rent payment platform is one of the best ways to minimize contact with tenants. Most platforms will let you securely set up monthly charges for rent and utilities as well as for charging one-time fees and deposits. Tenants usually have the option to set up direct bank transfers or pay with a credit/debit card with a processing fee. While TurboTenant is soon releasing a full-service rent payment feature (for people with at least one screening report), a short term solution is apps like Venmo, Google Wallet and PayPal that can all be used to pay rent. Most banks also have the option for customers to execute wire-transfers and electronic payments for a small fee. 
  • Other Options: If your tenant doesn’t feel comfortable with paying rent online, you can still make mailing/dropping their payments off an option. To protect yourself and them, put hand sanitizer by the drop off location, wear gloves, and wash your hands after touching or handling envelopes, cash, or checks.

#5: Communicating with Tenants Remotely

Here is a list of helpful tools and apps you can use to communicate with your tenants. Most of the tools listed below are free or come with free trials and are very simple to use. We recommend trying different ones and adding the apps of each service to your phone for quick access. A lot of the video tools also include voice calls only if you don’t want/need video.

  • Phone Tools: Mobile texting, phone calls, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts 
  • Email Tools: Emailing is a great way to send mass emails to your tenants, as well as a safe way to communicate individually with renters if you do not want to share your phone number. Mail services like Gmail or Outlook come with instant messaging features as well.
  • Video Chat tools: Facetime, Google Duo, Facebook Messenger Video, Whatsapp Video, Google Hangouts Video, Skype, or Zoom
  • TurboTenant Tools: TurboTenant has a messaging feature that allows you to message renters directly from your account and even send bulk messages to multiple leads. Here is a full guide on how to use the messaging feature. 
  • Generation Communication Tips: Here is a blog post on how to communicate with different generations. Some of your tenants in the Gen Z or Millenial category will be extremely comfortable communicating remotely – older generations such as Baby Boomers and Generation X might be more skeptical, so it’s important to practice patience and remember your audience.

#6: Handling Maintenance and Emergency Requests

With social distancing and self-quarantining, landlords will want to reduce their face-to-face contact when it comes to certain repairs – however, emergency situations can and should be addressed with additional caution. 

  • Regularly Scheduled Maintenance – Non-critical repairs and normal wear and tear repairs should be paused during social distancing periods. This includes things such as a dripping faucet, unhinged cabinets, or noisy radiators. This blog has more details on how long landlords have to fix something.
  • Emergencies – With the Implied Warranty of Habitability, landlords have to respond and fix emergency situations that make the rental uninhabitable ASAP. This includes things like no water or a broken heater. Hopefully, professionals will be available to fix the problem and be supplied with the right PPE (personal protective equipment) – check with them beforehand if they are requiring certain disinfecting protocols.

#7: Move-Outs

  • SanitizationHere are the CDC’s recommendations on the sanitization of environments that you should be encouraging tenants to do regularly. However, once a tenant has vacated the premises, a deep cleaning of the rental should be done. A professional cleaning company should have the right supplies and protective gear they will need to disinfect and deep clean the apartment or home – you can also do it yourself cautiously.

Here are resources from the National Multifamily Housing Council from cleaning products to general information to help you during this time. We hope these tips are helpful for you to become a full-on virtual landlord whether you choose to use TurboTenant or some of the other features we listed above. 

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