Have you have ever had too many qualified applicants for your rental properties?  So many you had to turn them away and even stop advertising?  I mean what a happy problem, right?  A landlord’s dream.

If this has ever happened to you, you probably wish for the good ol’ days to return.  More often we have units or homes available and few good applicants in sight.  So our properties sit empty.  Week after week.  Month after month.

Step 1 – Put a “For Rent” sign on the building

Step 2 – Run an ad in the newspaper

Step 3 – Another ad in the local apartment guide

Step 4 – Offer 1st Month FREE

Is this your marketing plan?  Wonder why what used to work doesn’t anymore?  Why does it take longer to fill vacancies?  One word: change.  What do the economy, the weather, your competitors and consumer behavior all have in common?  Constant change.  It’s a situation hardly unique to landlords and property managers.  Think of a different industry.  Think of Ford Motor Company.

Ford saw huge sales declines and billion-dollar the past few years.  At the brink of bankruptcy in 2008, what they had been doing clearly wasn’t working anymore.  Why?  Consumer demand shifted away from the models that Ford produced.  The company had largely stopped meeting the needs of its customers.   When a business loses its way and sales falter, it can often be traced back to losing sight of the customer.  Ford’s new CEO Alan Mulally responded by cutting unprofitable models from their lineup and redesigning some of their most popular models.  And Ford is back in a big way with record sales growth and increasing market share.

But what about a recession like we’re climbing out of now?  There too.  Change demands that we respond to consumer needs differently.  Abandon what doesn’t work.  Explore and adapt new strategies to restore what’s been lost.

So what does this mean for us landlords?  3 things.

  1. Don’t be surprised.  In fact, anticipate it.  Relationships evolve, including those with your tenants.  Needs change.  Remember the Boy Scout motto: be prepared.
  2. Communicate with your tenants.  Find out where they are spending their time.  Maybe you know where they work.  What about where they like to hang out or relax?  You need to be there, reaching others with a strong, relevant offer.  People are spending more and more time online.  Think how you can turn that into an opportunity.
    • Try advertising your properties on Craigslist.
    • Try a Google Adwords campaign.
    • Put together some helpful tips or a checklist for prospective tenants to use in their apartment search.
    • Keep an eye out for garage sales.  They can sometimes be an early indicator that the residents are thinking of moving.  What if you could be first-to-market and schedule a tour with them for one of your properties?
    • Put on an “Open House” to showcase your available property and invite the neighbors and your other tenants over.  Word-of-mouth can build from there.
  1. Discover your Unique Selling Proposition.  What sets you apart from the many other apartments, houses and condos in your market?  Armed with a host of resources available online, today’s renter is in control like never before.  Play to that.  Put yourself in their shoes.  Think back to when you were younger, before kids, looking after work and on weekends to rent your first, or second, or third place.  Have it in your mind?  THAT is your customer.  Now go get ‘em.

Provide value.  Get your name out into where your market is.  Don’t think of it as “branding”.  Think of it as solving problems.  Meeting needs.  That’s how you start to make a connection and attract new tenants.

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