The move-in process is not particularly fun for anyone. At any moment, the day could turn into a nightmare for the tenant and for you. This is why it is so important to make sure that this already stressful day isn’t even more anxiety-ridden. When your tenants walk in, you want them to feel relieved in their new home. . . not frustrated.
Thoroughly cleaning and fixing up the property are the easiest ways to make move-in day less stressful for your tenants. Property management isn’t for everyone, but with the right amount of hard work, it's an incredibly rewarding vocation. Even the most trivial things, like buying a new toilet paper holder, can make the property feel more like home to your clients. Read on for more tips on how to master the move-in process.
Setting the Stage for the Remainder of the Lease
Imagine you are a tenant. If you walk into a property that is in bad condition, then you have an excuse to treat it badly. If the property manager doesn’t care enough to keep the property in good shape, why should the tenant? On the other hand, if a tenant walks into a spotless property with functioning appliances and fixtures, they will feel obliged to take care of it.
As a property manager, your goal should always be to provide a clean, safe and habitable home. When you give a tenant keys to a property, you are setting the expectations for how you would like it to be returned. Doing this deters naturally messy tenants from wrecking the property.
It’s also never a bad idea to verbally set expectations at move-in. It doesn’t have to be harsh. A gentle reminder that this is how the property should be returned can go a long way. When tenants know that you care, they will care too.
Beginning With the End in Mind: Move Out
In property management, you may be worried about today but you’re always planning for the future. You want to set yourself up for a successful move-out as soon as your tenants move in. Not to mention that if the property is in good shape to begin with, then you will easily be able to point out new damages.
Move-out typically tends to be less stressful for tenants, but more stressful for property managers. You won’t know the damage that’s been done until the final inspection. In our experience, if the property has been professionally cleaned and touched up before move-in, the tenant will leave it better than they found it at move-out.
How to Set Tenants and Yourself Up for Success
There are a few documents that you should collect when tenants move-in. These documents not only protect your tenant, they also protect you. The documents will serve as insurance so that if something goes wrong, you and your tenant can resolve the situation.
First, make sure that you have a legible and accurate social security number, full name, birthday (day, month and year), emergency contact and photo ID copy on the application. This is important because with this information you can check if a tenant is active duty military. Those who are active duty military have certain legal protections and if you have to evict them you should understand the stipulations before you go to court. When you request this information, you’re reducing the potential for a deceiving tenant who may be trying to cheat you.
Second, you should request proof that the tenant has filled out a utilities transfer prior to move-in. Here’s an insider tip: although not all utility companies allow this, check to see if there is a revert to owner/landlord capability. This allows the utility company to automatically transfer the utilities once the tenant has moved out. It is important to do this so that the property stays properly maintained. The last thing that you want is for the pipes to freeze or for the property to be sweltering during a showing because you forgot to transfer the utilities back.
Third, ensure that the tenant has renters insurance and that your name or company is on the policy as additional interest. Sometimes, tenants will cancel their insurance once they have shown the property manager proof and are moved in. If you are named as an additional interest, you will be notified if the tenant cancels their insurance. Renters insurance protects the tenant in the case of a disastrous situation, thus reducing—and in some cases eliminating—your liability.
While asking for all of this information may feel obnoxious, if something does happen, you want to feel confident that you are covered. If you want to learn more about landlord protection, check out our episode on risk mitigation.
Whether or Not to Inspect the Property
Some property managers don’t complete a move-in inspection because their state does not require it. Here’s our advice: do the inspection even if it's not the law. The inspection form should not just be a few lines for each room asking what the condition was at move-in. If you can, go with the tenant and document as much as you can.
Take time-stamped—and geo-stamped—photos of every little thing. Using a geo-stamp can help you prove in court that a photo was actually taken at the property. Detailed photos can also help to quickly end arguments. For example, at move-out you may take note of a damage that will have to come out of the tenant’s security deposit. The tenant may say that they didn’t cause that damage and therefore shouldn't have to pay for it. If you have photos, you can quickly figure out whether or not the tenant caused the damage and end the argument.
If you do an inspection with the tenant, have them walk you through the property. This way, you can note what was already broken and the tenant feels that the inspection was fair. You can also give the tenant an itemized list of what to inspect and ask them to take photos for you. Once you have these documents and photos, add them to your Dropbox or some other digital platform that automatically backs up.
You never know when a picture may come in handy as proof, so don’t cut corners when it comes to move-in inspections.
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