Showing Safety Tips

by jay.raman@ashokalion.com 16, January 2017 08:45

Safety is an ever present concern in our society. When you are showing a property, do you take any steps to ensure your safety? Many investors and agents don't because they aren't aware of the potential risk they face when meeting new clients, showing properties, and holding open houses. Each year there are fatal injuries in many fields of work that aren't related to an attack, but in the Realtor/Rental showing world many of the fatal deaths can be attributed to attacks from fake clients. Here are just a few articles regarding realtor/agent attacks since 2010:

 

Ambushed Realtor shares graphic photo of vicious attack 2016

How a Real Estate Agent Survived Attack By Man She Was Showing a Home to 2015

Risky Business: Real estate agent's killing hits home for Realtors 2014

 

Here are some tips on keeping yourself safe:


  1. Always verify the identity of a new client you are meeting by requesting a copy of their driver’s license, pay check stubs, etc. Make sure a copy is at the office as well! Having a copy with the office ensures other’s have access to the information on file in case it is needed.

  2. Always notify your office of what properties you will be at, who you will be meeting, and when. A good tip is to have a google calendar setup and share it with your office/team. Google calendar’s are free and you can update them on any android device!

  3. Send regular updates during the course of your day. For example when you finish at one property send a quick email or text that you are done and what property you are visiting next. This ensures your office/team would be able to quickly identify if there is a problem and can get help to you ASAP.

  4. NEVER enter a vacant property alone without first checking for any signs of unexpected house guests.

    1. Try walking around outside and check to see if there is any damage to the doors or windows.

    2. Always visit during the day.

    3. Look through any uncovered windows to see if there are any signs of an occupant.

    4. Try to have a co-worker, friend, family member, spouse, etc to join you when you need to enter a vacant home.

    5. If you suspect there is someone inside DO NOT confront them, always return to your vehicle, start the engine, and THEN call the police.

  5. Try to lock your valuables up in the trunk of your car. NEVER leave them out in plain view, especially on a counter or table at the property.

  6. ALWAYS keep your cell phone with you.

  7. NEVER transport a stranger in your car. This is probably one of the most common and unsafe practices with agents. You are putting yourself at as much risk as you would picking up a hitchhiker. Always drive separately!

  8. If possible, NEVER park in the driveway. Always try to park at the curb so you can quickly get away if a situation escalates.

 

Your safety is important, and following these steps could save your life.

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January 2017 Houston Market Forecast & Marketing Tips

by jay.raman@ashokalion.com 16, January 2017 08:35

Houston, Texas is an ever growing city. There is a constant flow of new home constructions, which results in an expanding real estate market. What affect could this have on home sales/lease projections in 2017?


In 2016 construction of multifamily property was at 160% of the average production year.  Analysts predict that the most likely result of the production boom in 2016 will be a reduction of new multifamily builds in 2017. Why? Because continuing at this pace could over saturate the market with available property, thus resulting in extended vacancies which will cause profit loss and increased expenses to investors and owners intending to sell.


Additionally current construction permit numbers already reflect a decline in production for 2017. The city of Houston’s permit dollar volume has gone down when compared to last year, plus the current amounts are more related to renovations and additions. Read more on this HERE.


To put it simply homes could spend significantly more time on the market before being sold or leased as they have more competition in the market. This may seem daunting, but the good news is there are many ways to increase your lease and sales chances! Here are some tips on improving your home sales options:



  1. Work with an experienced team that has a strong marketing plan and open availability to show your home. Marketing and showing your property are one of the top elements to selling your property quickly. If you don’t have the time to invest in market planning/strategies, showings, etc. then you should bring on an experienced team to work with you on selling your property!

  2. Price your home appropriately for the market. If you start with to high of a price you’ll lose out on many home buyers making offers and even agent’s showing your property to their clients. Always analyze the market for the area your property is in and use recent sales prices of comparable homes to set your sales price. Keeping the price in line with the market will help keep you competitive!

  3. Be flexible on your showing hours. Limiting access to viewing the property will seriously limit your potential offers. In today’s economy many people are working a variety of schedules, so keeping your showing hours as open as possible allows you to work around THEIR schedule with ease. The more viewings you have the more potential for offers you have!  

  4. Make sure to invest in your property photographs. While it may be quick and convenient to take pictures with your cell phone it’s typically not the best camera for the job. You want your pictures to be clear, high resolution shots that provide a similar view as visiting the property in person will. It will greatly improve your potential viewing numbers if you invest in a higher end digital camera if one is not available.  

  5. Curb Appeal, Curb Appeal, Curb Appeal! We can’t stress this enough. Most listings use the exterior shot of the home as the primary photo, and the first view of the the home during a showing is the outside. How it looks sets the buyers expectations for everything else. If the outside looks shabby and unkempt they will expect inside to be as well. Update your curb appeal with a new set of paint, flowers, fresh sod to bring the grass back, etc. If in doubt on improvements consult with an experienced marketing team!

  6. Freshen up the interior! A new coat of paint can go a long way, but keep it fresh and inviting. Consulting with a interior designer for the current styles and trends can help you give your interior a more modern look that many buyers will find thrilling.

  7. If your property is occupied be sure to clean up and remove any clutter as well as taking down the family photos, pets,  and religious/political items prior to any showing.

  8. If your property is unoccupied try “staging” the house! Staging means furnishing the home as if it is currently being lived in, this gives the potential buyers an easier vision of living there! Over 81% of buyers in 2015 stated they could better visualize living in the home when it’s staged versus an unfurnished property. Staging can definitely improve your offers, read more on it HERE.

 

The market may slow down, but if you use these tips you can get your property sold quickly!

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November 2016 Houston Leasing Market Update

by jay.raman@ashokalion.com 16, December 2016 04:07

 

November 2016 Leasing Data

Har.com has released some interesting leasing data for November 2016. Single Family homes are increasing in the number of leases, but Condominiums and Townhomes are declining. The market appears to be turning towards the Single Family home rentals which could lead to a shorter time for your property listing. This is excelent news for many investors, but one contendor that could affect even the single family home leases are the apartment rentals. In November 2016 apartment rental pricing decreased by an average of 2.6%. This decrease could affect the property listings for single families if it continues to decline. Watching the market pricing for Apartment's, Single Family, Condominum, and Townhome rentals can help owners lease their properties quickly if they market their pricing right. Below is more information regarding this data.   

November Leasing Data from Har.com
Type of Proprety Price Volume Percentage Increase/(Decrease)
Single Family $1724 3.2%
Condo/Townhome $1498 (2.4%)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Based on data from Har.com, there was a mixed performance in November 2016 on leasing. There was a increase of 3.2% on leasings of single family homes but a decrease of 2.4% on condo/townhome communities. READ MORE HERE

 

November 2016 Aparment Rental Changes

Based on data from Rentjungle.com, apartment rental amounts have decreased by 2.6% in November. READ MORE HERE

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2017 Overview on Screening- 10 steps to help screen a application

by jay.raman@ashokalion.com 6, December 2016 08:07

 

Protect Your Home

 

A few years ago, we wrote an article discussing the importance of screening your tenants when your a landlord or property management company. Today, we wanted to discuss 10 steps to effectively screen your application with minimal issues and find the best applicant.   There are no fool proof ways to screen tenants, but these steps will hep you mitigate chances of accepting tenants who will not pay rent.  

1) Have prospective tenants fill out a written or online application- realtors and licensed property managers usually have access to forms that applicants fill out in a written manner. It is easier to detect inconsistencies and issues when reviewing a written application.

2) Clear Eligibility Requirements-Realtors and landlords should have clearly written guidelines on what you are looking for a tenant. Realtors and property managers should be aware that this is the law in the state of Texas

3) Review Criminal Convictions- HUD states that you cannot deny based on arrest, but you can evaluate convictions. This is due to "disparate impact" that proponents argue targets minorities. Therefore, managers and realtors should have ways to review criminal convictions not just arrest. 

4) Review judgements for evictions, bankruptcy, foreclosures- Credit scores can be skewed by using legal protections to discharge debts,etc. Therefore, reviewing the applicants judgements may give insight into issues that tenant prospects have had meeting their obligations over the past years. Property Managers shoud know a idea of how many years that they want to have good rental history so this may help provide context as to why applicants have limited rental history. 

5) Try to interview current and past landlords- Since property management firms and landlords need to gain better insight into how tenants will take care of your home. This means reaching out to interview them. 

6) Try to obtain copy of current lease- There are times when a current landlord is unvailable. If you can get a copy of the current lease, then you can review contact information, terms,etc.   Hopefully, you can confirm lease terms, rent, and owner contact information to match to what was provided in application.

7) Scan credit reports for issues on the report- If you can obtain credit report, then the landlord or property manager can scan to see if there are any amounts from places that look like apartment complexs to possibly detect damanges or broken lease issues. You can also see in reports that there are other report addresses to confirm addresses provided. 

8) Request copies of paycheck stubs- obtaining a few paychecks (we request 2 months) to help you identify if pay fluctuates or is it steady. It also allows land lords and management companies to verify employment information provided in the application.

9) Obtain pictures of animals- Do you accept pit bulls? Many owners will say no, but they may not realize that a more formal name for a pit bull is "staffordshire terrier".  By obtaining pictures, you and your owners can better understand what kind of animals a tenant may have with them. 

10) Run applications on everyone over 18 years of age- If you have adults living in a home, you should know their criminal background and potentially rental history. What if a applicant who would be a occupant destroyed a previous residence? Without screening all adults that will live at the home, then you expose yourself to same risk of putting in bad tenants. 


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Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Horror comes to Texas

by jay.raman@ashokalion.com 10, October 2012 00:19

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released in 1974, with a relatively unknown cast, and it was filmed in Texas. As a Texas property management firm serving the Houston and Dallas market, are you supposed to feel pride or sadness at that prospect. Therefore, to clarify for those of you who have never visited Houston, Dallas, or Texas; the movie actually was not based on event in Texas, but based loosely on the crimes of a man named Ed Gein who crimes were committed in Wisconsin. While watching the movie and reminiscing for our list that we are doing on our Ashoka Lion Facebook Business page  of our favorite horror movies (Author's Note: You can visit  the page, as it is where we tend to share our more humorous looks into our industry splashed with some informative education for landlords, real estate agents, and people interested in investing in real estate), a thoughts popped up about our job as property managers as well:

I doubt if that home was rented that anyone did a  property inspections ever. Something tells me that if a home was rented had rooms filled with victims that the tenant really were worred about a property manager stopping by. As a property management company, we provide our client with inspections to help the owner keep track of issue. We also leverage our history with our vendors to also gain insight into how a tenant is taking care of the property. Our A/C vendors, our in-house maintenance firm, and other vendors will give us reports to help us identify issues; and we use those visits that occur during a year to gain comfort over the resident's treatment of the landlords property. Our property managers tend to stop by on a drive by type inspection after the tenant's move in (see if the tenants are taking care of the yard, snuck a dog or pet in and not report it, introduce our property manager to a resident, or see if any issues or repairs need to be addressed) early on after they move in, and we also schedule a annual property inspection before they move out in the last 90 days.

However, after a movie like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, our Houston and Dallas property managers will be warned about visiting isolated homes in remote locations of the woods.

 

 

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Psycho: Norman Bates was evil, but Marion Crane was no saint either.

by jay.raman@ashokalion.com 7, October 2012 15:40

As a child, I had a strong appreciation for Alfred Hitchcock's brand of horror. It was chilling, but subtle. Psycho was a prime example of the brilliance of the gifted Alfred Hitchcock. However, as I was reviewing this movie for our Ashoka Lion Facebook list of horror movies for property managers; I realized that Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh) was no angel herself. If you recall, Marion had embezzled $40,000 from her employer, and this is why she was hiding at the motel. Unfortunately for Marion, she met her untimely death in one of the most famous murder scenese in cinematic history (the bathroom scene in Psycho is a all time classic moment).

As a property manager, I am obviously scared of knife weilding lunatics; but Marion's crime is equally as scary for a property manager. As a licensed Texas real estate brokerage in both the Houston and Dallas markets, we are bound by ethical and legal obligations of fiduciary duty to our clients.  Marion's crime could devestate a firm like ours if that money stolen was the client's rent money.  Our duty as a property managers includes safekeeping of the client's rent monies collected, insuring appropriate disbursement of funds to vendors, and keeping record of income and expenses. This is a duty that our firm takes very seriously, as we want to limit mistakes and issues from ever arising. It would be nice to claim mistakes would never occur, but this would be foolish, as humans are bound to make mistakes. The key is to reduce those occurences. Our processes and procedures are sometimes unique from other property management firms. For example:

 

  • Rent is not to be mailed to our offices in Houston or Dallas.   Many firms do allow tenants tenants to mail in payment, but our property management policy is to disallow this. Over the years, tenants will claim that the rent is lost in the mail, and they did send it In fact, tenants will go so far as to show receipts from money orders,etc to prove this. These kinds of issues can be dealt with at a eviction hearing, but today, some judges will have sympathy for the clients who provide some kind of documentary proof. The burden is on the landlord to prove that the rent was not paid at that point.
  • Property managers do not pick up rents.   We do not pick up rents from tenants. A few years ago, one of our property managers had her purse stolen after leaving a property. Reprimanding the property manager does not solve any issues, and a landlord may have sympathy to our plight, but they expect their money to be remitted to them. Fortunately, this crime only resulted in the loss of a few hundred dollars of rent, and reimbursing the owner for that loss was not dramatic. However, that lesson taught to my property management team has stuck with us to this day. Our rent collection process does not involve picking up rents either.
  • Double entry accounting of money on two systems: We maintain our records of our bank accounts on Quickbooks for our internal records, but we also maintain our owners and tenant records on a web based system as well. By utilizing the two systems, we are able to identify issues more quickly as we use different staff to handle each system's entries.
  • Match Bills to Work Orders: To pay bills of nonutility nature, our accounting staff is required to upload invoices to an appropriate work order. If they cannot locate the work order or the work order amounts do not match, the back office staff will assign a review to clarify and approve the bill.
  • Person who organizes payments is not person entering bills: Our staff divides the role of uploading bills and paying bills to two different persons. Occassionally, our office will get a bill that we missed or some how the system was not working, and our managing director will sign off on the overriding the control. This separation of duties further insures that bills are paid as appropriate and reduces risk of a employee embezzling the funds.
  • Person who organizes and sign off on payments does not perform the reconcilation of the bank account.  Our managing director approves payments if they do not follow our process procedure and he is the only signer on the account , but another member of our back office team does the reconciliation of the various property management accounts (escrow owner reserve, accounts, escrow deposit accounts, etc). This separation of duty further reduces risk that a fraudulent act could occur.

Marion Crane may have been victim to a insane man living in a creepy house with his deceased mother, but her crimes against her employer scare property management firms like ours almost as much as Norman Bates (played by Anthony Perkins).

 

 

The Omen: Signs of the appocalypse that we see as property managers

by jay.raman@ashokalion.com 6, October 2012 00:30

The original The Omen was a 1976 movie that scared me witless. I remembered that I watched the movie on local network 20 Vision in Houston, and I was way too young to watch something that scary. The movie was just so scary to me, as it involves the story of the AntiChrist's arrival to a family by way of a secret adoption by Robert Thorn (played by Gregory Peck) due to the loss of their own baby that very same night.  The adoption was secret to protect Robert's wife, Katherine (played by Lee Remick), from the emotional trauma of losing her own child. 

This first movie was focused on this child's infancy stage to being a young five year old child.  The signs of evil surround Damien as he grows up. Among the signs that we come to bear witness to are that he had a birth mark under his with the numbers 666, a nanny who commits suicide proclaiming it is for Damien, a evil nanny who replaces the recently deceases nanny and brings with her a Rotweiller (who brings a Rotweiller to a new job?), Damien's own terror when approaching a church or sacred ground, and many other ominous signs.  The protagonist is Damien's adopted father, who is faced with the decision to try and stop his adopted son. Being a property manager in the Houston and Dallas area, we have our own version of omens that fortell of doom.  4 omens are:

1) Owners ignoring preventative methods to maintaining their property- Sometimes owners will ignore issues that should be dealt within a prompt manner for numerous reasons including financial ability to pay, desire to improve profit, belief that the problem is not severe to merit attention, and various other reasons. Like The Omen, these ominous signs rarely go away, and in fact, many times, they just get worse. For example, we always warn owners to consider preventative maintenance of their AC systems, Furnances, etc. We know that the situation may get worse and lead to a owner having a larger issues later on down the way.

2) Owners who only focus on price when comparing our bids to a untested random vendor- Another dangerous omen that we come across are owners who refuse to accept pricing from qualified vendors. Some owners will balk at the idea of spending money for various maintenance service, but in our experience as property managers; we know that the vendors that we are asking for assistance are expeirencd and qualified.  Our property management company will request fair pricing, but we do not necessarily work with vendors on the basis of price alone. Our goal is to find affordable, experienced, responsive vendors so that we can balance quality and price.   Sometimes, owner's balk at prices of services, and they will use vendors that they find on Craigslist and compare them to the prices that our property management companies vendors will charge. We warn owners that using untested vendors on the basis of price can lead to heart ache.

As property managers, we are caught in the middle, as the owner will have issues with quality, price, and responsiveness with these untested vendors; but we are also hearing from the tenants, who are demanding problems get fixed in a timely manner.  This is why we always invite owners to provide us the names of quality, respected vendors that they have experience with who will be open to joining our vendor list when they sign up for property management services from us; but we warn them that just using any random vendor could be a disastorous.

3) The owner who refuses to set the price near the recommended rent that the market indicates- Prior to listing a property for rent, our broker will send a landlord a rental maket analysis (referred to a comparative market analysis or "CMA" for short).  We do this to help set the expectations that a property hopes to achieve in terms of rent rates. Ocassionally, our property managers will come across a owner who has their own value that they feel, and they will ignore our suggestion. We have often learned that this owner will still blame us if their property is not moving off the market.

4) The owner with unrealistic expectations of money being remitted- This owner will not accept our processes and timelines as realistc. We tell these prospective owners that we often will remit rents back in the middle of the month, and they find it unacceptable. They argue that they have to pay the mortgage. However, we tell them that this is not a unrealistic expectation because the tenants could be late, bank holidays and weekends adjust when rents will clear a account, our staff has to reconcile and review the owner's  rental property activity to make sure that we have netted all appropriate expenses prior to sending it out, and a myriad of other reasons.

We explain that a owner should not bank on the fact that the owner's rental draw will to be in prior to most mortgages being due. This kind of owner tends to get mad and frustrated at the onset, so we always politely explain that our processes and services are built on reducing mistakes and insuring that we are carefully accounting for the monies provided to us. If they refuse to see rationale of our systems, we will let the owner know that our firm may not be the right fit for their services.

Though our signs are not the same as world ending signs that the threated in The Omen, but these signs do scare us as property managers.

 

 

The Shining: Horror that many people have to deal with

by jay.raman@ashokalion.com 4, October 2012 23:18

The Shining is a 1980 horror movie that was based on the Stephen King novel, that was directed by Stanley Kubrick and starred Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. The story is about a young family that is taking care of an isolated hotel that is haunted by a demonic presence. The hotel's demonic element slowly begins to turn the father and drag him into insanity. In the end, the mother and son flee the deranged father as he tries to kill them.  Now, fortunately, in our time as a property managers in either the Houston or Dallas area, we have not faced a tragedy on that scale, but we have come across tenant's whose lives are marred by family violence. Unlike this movie,  where the family is trapped together till the very end when they escape, the Texas property code does allow tenants to terminate a lease without reprecussion when dealing with incidences of family violence.

We advise tenants to put the request in writing, so our property managers can document the incident. Additionally, our property management company policy is to request tenants provide us copies of police reports or restraining orders to help us document the incident further. As the property manager, we still have to relay information to our landlords and owners; and the written documentation will help us in explain what is going on at a property.  Additionally, in those situations with the appropriate written notice and supporting documents, our property managment company will not report the incident as a broken lease or evict a tenant for moving out.

Normally, we like to be joke and tease about movies relating to our lives a property managers. However, the Shining is a movie that too often hits home for too many families in Houston, Dallas, Texas, and everywhere. We hope that tenants will not face horrorifying situations in their family life. If they do have to deal with this horror, then please remember to document and provide proof to your landlord or property manager to not compound the personal tragedy with an eviction or broken lease.  I am sure that many property management companies or property managers will be understanding.  If you do get a broken lease or eviction due to those circumstances, then you have to sometimes deal with a hassle to remove those items from your record.

The Shining, a classic movie, whose horror hits too close to home for too many people.

 

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Seven: The sin of gluttony brings flashbacks to how tenants sometimes take care of their property

by jay.raman@ashokalion.com 4, October 2012 13:16

When I watched the movie "Seven", there were many graphic and difficult scenes to watch.  Seven was a thrilling movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, and Kevin Spacey.  In the movie, a unnamed killer (who in the end is simply identified as John Doe) arranges several gruesome murders to replicate the seven deadly sins.  If you watched the movie, you probably cringed at how graphic and disgusting some of the scenes were. However, over the years as a property management company in the Houston and Dallas markets, we have found homes that would have seemed to be scenes straight out of the movie. I never understood why tenants would request a home be immaculate, but then upon a inspection, we discover that they take very little care of a home after they are given the keys.  Ashoka Lion will share one tenant story (name will not be revealed) to illustrate the kinds of flashbacks to Seven that we get as a property management company on a periodic basis.

My tenant story involved a lady who on paper seemed to be a solid prospect. Solid work history, no eviction or broken leases on record, made pretty good money , and did not register any red flags criminally. However, after this tenant moved in, we had a plumbing request. She had garbage disposal problem. We sent repair guys to the home, and they were thoroughly disgusted. In the home, they found dishes were piled high with uneaten foods left around the room and trash everywhere. The repair guys are instructed to inform our property managers of these kinds of issues, so we can schedule follow up inspections or send warning letters to tenant.  The guys continued to resolve the issue, and in the garbage disposal; the repair guys found pork bones and silverware in the garbage disposal. We obviously warned the tenant regarding this matter, but like a horror movie, this was just the begining. She later complained that the toilets were blocked up, so our property managers had to send repair guys out again. She had called our property managers to tell us that the toilet was blocked at 1 pm on a weekend, and we got a guy there around 6 pm. To our horror, her toilet was blocked up, but instead of leaving it alone; her family decided to continue using the toilet and caused it to over flow (no further details needed).

Truthfully, dealing with a tenant like this will make property management firms and their landlords think of the sin of wrath (not discussing further to avoid revealing too much about the movie).

 

 

The Fly: Another reason to not bring your work home with you

by jay.raman@ashokalion.com 3, October 2012 14:37

The Fly is a movie about a scientist who uses a warehouse like space to live and conduct experiments. Unfortunately, his experiment involves teleportation of items, and during one of his experiments a fly is trapped in the teleportation pod. THe unfortunate scientist begins to mutate to a savage cross of insect and man. Now, I know that most people are carry out teleportation or time travel experiments in their homes, but as property managers,we do come across people who try to use their home as a place of business. Our property management company's policy in our Houston and Dallas leases is that a home, duplex , condo, or apartment is used as a residence.

Allowing tenants to run a business out of their home is not a good idea on so many levels. First, the business is probably prohibited by community or homeowner association. Second, the business customer traffic to your home increases the risk that a incident can occur at the home. Third, many homeowner policies do require notice if the home is being used as place of business.  Our stance against home based business is not to be confused with a stance against people who bring their work home or who telecommute into their work.

Therefore, when our property management firm was approached by real estate investors or others who seek to use our homes as group homes, day care business, etc; we politely explain that most of our properties would not be qualified to be used in such a manner. However, in parts of Houston (namely the Heights and Museum District areas), where homes and properties can be used in a mixed use manner. In these scenarios, it is possible to lease to a person in this manner, but it would be important to use a commercial lease and know up front that the tenant's intent is to run a business.

Next time, your tenant backs up a truck filled with large nuclear powered pods, just remember that we warned you.

 

 

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