Maintenance Tips to Reduce Vacancy

How do you make your investment property POP? Discover our 4 cost-effective tips.

Depending on your area, the Sydney rental market is competitive for landlords at the moment. This is primarily due to the impact of border restrictions on short-term rental properties as many of them have converted into long-term rentals.

But landlords can buck the trend. Discover our 4 top tips to improve and enhance the appeal of your investment property.

Tip 1:  Regular maintenance keeps outgoings low and reduces vacancies

Areas that commonly need attention are:

  • Leaking taps – both indoors and outdoors (in gardens and balconies).
  • Weeds and gardens in poor condition – rip out weeds and dead plants because pleasant outdoor living spaces provide great appeal.
  • Flaking or old paint – nothing refreshes a property like fresh paintwork as long as you choose neutral colours.
  • Signs of mould or mildew – they often signal bigger problems so invest in a proper examination of the cause. It could save you money in the long run.

Tip 2:  Can you add more storage?

People love storage and tenants want to know there will be room for all of their possessions. Shelves in the laundry, spacious wardrobes, a place to store linen and roomy pantries are often inexpensive to install while dramatically increasing the desirability of your rental property.

Tip 3:  How old are your appliances?

Air conditioners, ovens and dishwashers usually have a lifespan of 8-10 years. If the appliances in your rental property are around this age or older, they need to be replaced with modern ones and potential tenants will love it.

Tip 4:  Evaluate the condition of the kitchen and bathroom/s

In any home, the kitchen and bathroom will have the biggest impact but that doesn’t mean you need to replace them. There are simple improvements you can make that will increase appeal in a cost effective way. Examples include:

  • Replacing taps and door handles to provide instant impact.
  • In the kitchen, if the door and drawer fronts are starting to show their age, investigate your options to paint over them. There are also companies who replace just the door and drawer fronts.
  • In the bathroom, assess the condition of the:
  • Vanity
  • Mirror
  • Shower rose and taps
  • Shower curtain (if appropriate)

Updating any or all of these items will give the bathroom an immediate refresh without the huge expense of a complete bathroom renovation.

Where do you start?

If your tenant is about to leave or your investment property is currently vacant, now is a great time to obtain an independent assessment of any maintenance issues or improvements required to enhance the appeal of your property.

If you are not sure where to start, contact Brigitte from Stills Properties. She knows how to attract great tenants in even the toughest markets because she’s been managing properties for over 35 years. Not only that, she has developed close relationships with high quality tradies who understand things need to be done promptly.

If you are ready to make your rental property work harder for you, contact Brigitte on 1300 091 638 or email propertymanager@stillsproperties.com.au for a free, independent assessment.


How to Choose a Property Manager

6 Questions you should ask before choosing a property manager

When you purchase an investment property it’s tempting to ask the selling agent’s company to manage it for you. But are their property managers the right fit for you?

You may not be aware but the property sales team usually operates independently from the property management team – even if they share the same office space. So just because you had a good experience with a sales agent, doesn’t mean their property management team will be your best option.

When it comes to property management, it’s important to select your manager with care. After all, buying an investment property is a medium to long-term investment. You’ve probably spent a great deal of time and effort finding the right property. So shouldn’t you invest a bit more time finding the right property manager?

Here are the top 6 questions we think you should ask when choosing your property manager.

1. How long have you been a property manager?

While it’s great to give people a chance, your investment property is a very valuable asset and it’s important it’s managed by a knowledgeable and experienced property manager. It’s even more essential at times like this when the rental market is a little uncertain.

2. How long have you been working with this agency?

It’s an unfortunate trend that property managers tend to stay with an agency for a couple of years at most. While large agencies will have other staff to fill the void, the reality for you is, with regular staff turnover, there’s no-one who knows your property or understands your tenant. That includes your tenant’s history and the condition of your property at the commencement of the lease. That’s not a good way to manage such an important asset.

3. How many properties do you look after?

In property management circles, there is an optimum number of properties that an individual should manage. When a property manager has too many properties in their care, they simply can’t attend to tenant complaints or maintenance problems promptly. They may also struggle to identify late rental payments as quickly as you need.

When evaluating property managers, ask yourself, do you want your investment property to be managed with care or be placed in a queue before issues are dealt with?

4. How do you vet potential tenants?

Tenant selection is critically important. You want someone who will treat your investment property with care and who plans to live there for a few years. You also want tenants who can afford the rent, won’t sub-lease to others and will pay their rent on time.

It takes time to investigate and screen potential tenants. So before selecting a property manager, ask them about their tenant vetting process to ensure they do a thorough job.

5. Do you have happy landlords?

Good property managers have happy landlords. It’s that simple. Once you have refined your potential property manager options to just one or two candidates, ask to see testimonials from their landlords.

6. Do you have happy tenants?

Good property managers also look after tenants. They are responsive to tenant enquiries and they work with them to ensure they are happy because content tenants stay longer in your rental property. Happy tenants are also more likely to renew their lease and take care of your investment. When you have refined your property manager search to just one or two candidates, ask them if they have any testimonials from happy tenants.

An obvious choice

Brigitte from Stills Properties has been looking after landlords and their tenants for over 35 years. With that much experience, you can feel confident she must be doing something exceptional – and she is.

Brigitte knows every property, every landlord and every tenant. She personally conducts each property inspection and understands the complexities of NSW tenancy laws. If you would like your investment property managed by someone who really cares, contact Brigitte from Stills Properties on 1300 091 638 or email propertymanager@stillsproperties.com.au


Six month moratorium on residential tenancy evictions during COVID-19

The NSW Government is introducing an interim 60-day stop on landlords seeking to evict tenants due to rental arrears as a result of COVID-19, together with longer six month restrictions on rental arrears evictions for those financially disadvantaged by COVID-19.

Read the media release
Read the new Regulation

New measures
Coronavirus (COVID-19) has already had a significant impact on the economy, meaning some tenants are having difficulty keeping up with rent payments. The NSW government is introducing measures to help landlords and tenants work together. The new measures include an interim 60 day stop on landlords issuing termination notices or applying for NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the Tribunal) eviction orders due to rental arrears, where tenants are financially disadvantaged by COVID-19.

“This will allow time for Government financial support to reach those who need it and limit social movement in order to minimise public health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

A landlord is required to negotiate a rent reduction with the tenant in good faith in the first instance, and can only seek to give a termination notice or apply for an eviction after the interim 60-day stop if it is fair and reasonable in the circumstances of the specific case.

Fair Trading will be able to assist landlords and tenants try to reach an agreement if needed.

Along with these restrictions on evictions for rental arrears, the Government will be extending the notice periods for certain other lease termination reasons to 90 days. At any time during the 60 day stop and the longer six month restrictions, landlords can still apply to the Tribunal at any time to take possession of a property if they are suffering undue hardship.

Eligibility
To meet the requirements for 60 day stop on evictions and the longer six month restrictions, a household needs to demonstrate they are impacted by COVID-19. A household is COVID-19 impacted if:

1. one or more rent-paying members of a household have lost employment or income (or had a reduction in employment or income) due to COVID-19 business closures or stand-downs, or

2. one or more rent-paying members of a household have had to stop working or reduce work hours due to illness with COVID-19 or due to COVID-19 carer responsibilities for household or family members, and

3. the above factors result in a household income (inclusive of any government assistance) that is reduced by 25% or more.

Important
All tenants who are not impacted by COVID-19 are expected to honour their existing tenancy agreements including paying all rent and charges in full.

Flowcharts
To understand how the ban on evictions due to COVID-19 may affect your tenancy, see the first flowchart. If you are a landlord and you want to understand how the new measures affect all types of residential tenancy terminations, use the second flowchart.
Flowchart: Can a tenancy be terminated during COVID-19
Flowchart for landlords – termination of tenancy options

Template letters


For tenants

We have created a template letter for tenants to help them when approaching landlords to request rent reduction. We have also created an example.
To help with your request, your letter should also include:

1. your original household income
2. your change in circumstances due to COVID-19 and how this has impacted on your household income
3. the rent payment you would be able to meet under your new household income
4. any income support you receive

Tenant template letter
Tenant example letter

For landlords when responding to a tenant
All landlords must be prepared to negotiate rent payments with tenants experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID-19.

To help you, we have created a template you can use when responding to rent reduction requests. We have also created an example.
Your response letter should also include:

1. your financial situation – be open and honest about your financial situation, including whether you rely on the rental income to cover mortgage repayments or other expenses.

2. your conversations with your lender – outline the result of conversations you’ve had with your lender about waiving or reducing your own mortgage repayments.

3. the rent payment that you would be able to accept

4. clarify whether the rent payment loss (arrears) will be waived or repaid

Landlord template letter to tenant
Landlord example letter to tenant

For landlords when talking to their financial institution
Landlords are encouraged to approach their financial institutions to seek a mortgage freeze or reduced repayments as part of the negotiation discussions with their tenant/s. We have created a template you can use when approaching your lender. We have also created an example.

Your letter should include:

1. your financial situation be open and honest about your financial status if you rely on the income from your rental property to help pay for the mortgage, and are negotiating with your tenant about rent payment, this should be outlined and evidenced in your request.

2. the mortgage waiver or reduced payment you are seeking until you or your tenant resumes normal employment arrangements.

3. clarify whether your rental payment losses (arrears) will be waived or repaid under a repayment plan with your tenant once the COVID-19 emergency is over

Template letter from landlord to financial institution
Example letter from landlord to financial institution

Frequently asked questions

Can a tenant and landlord still end a tenancy if they agree?
Yes. A tenant and landlord can agree to end a tenancy and decide when and how this is to happen.

What proof does a tenant need to show they are impacted by COVID-19?
The tenant can provide simple documents to show that they are impacted by COVID-19, for example:
proof of job termination/stand-down, or loss of work hours
proof of Government income support
proof of prior income.

What do the changes mean for tenants who are impacted by COVID-19?
The new rules put an immediate 60 day stop on termination notices and Tribunal applications for terminations based on rental arrears where a tenant is unable to meet their rental obligations due to being impacted by COVID-19.

This will allow time for tenants to receive Government income support and for landlords to negotiate a reduction or waiver of mortgage repayments with their lender.

It will also allow time for tenants and landlords to negotiate possible reductions in rent if needed. A dispute resolution process is available through NSW Fair Trading if no agreement can be reached or where the landlord or tenant would prefer to use this option.

Does the tenant need to pay back the rental arrears or will the amount be waived?
The amount of rent arrears accrued by a tenant who has negotiated reduced rent will not automatically be waived. Whether rental arrears will be waived is subject to negotiation between the tenant and the landlord (with assistance from Fair Trading’s dispute resolution process as required).

Are sub-tenants covered by the stop on evictions?
The stop on evictions applies to sub-tenants who are unable to meet their rental obligations and who are covered by the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. These are tenants where the property is subject to a written residential tenancy agreement and:

are a sub-tenant under a written residential tenancy agreement with the tenant named in the main tenancy agreement, or

a tenant under the main written tenancy agreement has transferred the tenancy to them.

Can I still end my tenancy using the required notice periods and not negotiate with my landlord?
Yes. Tenants who do not wish to stay in their premises can terminate using the existing notice period required for their specific agreement.
Tenants seeking to end a fixed term agreement early may be required to pay break fees under their agreement. Details about ending a fixed term agreement early are outlined on the Fair Trading website.

Why are we not protected from eviction for six months as was announced following the National Cabinet meeting recently?
The package announced is designed to support tenancies to continue wherever possible. The new laws will provide a six month moratorium on landlords giving termination notices, or making applications for forced evictions, due to rental arrears for tenants who are impacted by COVID-19, provided both parties seek to find a mutually workable solution.

The new laws allow landlords, after the 60-day stop, to seek to terminate a COVID-19 impacted tenancies for rental arrears but this can only occur if they have tried to negotiate a rent reduction with the tenant in good faith and seeking a termination is fair and reasonable in the circumstances of the specific case.

What if the landlord refuses to negotiate and we can’t reach an agreement?
The landlord and tenant should both attempt in good faith to negotiate a reduction in rent.

NSW Fair Trading provides a dispute resolution process that landlords and tenants can use if they can’t reach an agreement themselves. Fair Trading will request evidence from the tenant about their previous income and current income from all sources, including any Government income support. Information will also be sought about any application the tenant has made for income support.

Tenants need to have an idea of how much rent they can pay when considering negotiations. Fair Trading will then contact the landlord to seek a mutual agreement on a temporary arrangement for the payment of rent.

Is income calculated before or after tax?
When determining whether a tenant meets the COVID-19 impact test, the income received is the money coming into the tenant’s bank account after tax.

How does the test apply to group houses where not all rent paying
tenants have been affected by COVID-19?
The COVID-19 impact test applies to the total household income, inclusive of any government assistance, such as the new job keeper payments.

Will my landlord insurance cover my rental losses?
Landlords should check their insurance policy to see whether they are covered for rental default. Different policies will have different limits and requirements. Many insurers are adopting new procedures to deal with the impacts of COVID-19, and may require evidence that the landlord has attempted to negotiate with the tenant.

I am a landlord, but I can’t afford to provide a reduction in rent
Landlords should seek to negotiate with their lender to try to obtain an agreement to waive or reduce mortgage repayments. Many lenders are offering to reduce or waive payments at this time.

If this is possible, landlords should have a greater capacity to agree to a reduced rent or charges for a period of time. The immediate 60-day stop on evictions will also allow time for the tenants to access Government income support and may allow tenants to resume paying existing rent.

Can tenants be encouraged to look at accessing their super to pay rental arrears?
Agents and landlords must not encourage tenants to access their super early to cover any rental arrears. This could constitute unlicensed financial advice and may not be in the best interests of the tenant. Financial advice must only be provided by qualified and licensed financial advisers or counsellors, not by agents or landlords.

What happens once the interim 60 day stop ends?
Once the intermin 60 day stop has ended, a tenant(s) who is still unable to meet their rental obligations due to COVID-19 can only have their tenancy terminated on the basis of rental arrears if the landlord has attempted to negotiate reduced rent in good faith but the tenant has failed to do so.

I am a tenant in social housing – does the stop on evictions apply to me? I am a tenant in social housing – does the stop on evictions apply to me?
Social housing providers have their own processes for dealing with rental arrears and are not covered by the new provisions.

Example scenarios

Reduced income together with income support resulting in less than 25% loss of income

A tenant pays $300 per week in rent under their tenancy agreement

The tenant earned $800 per week but lost their income as a sole trader due to the impacts of COVID-19 business closures on their business, following public health orders

The tenant now receives income support of around $1,500 per fortnight, or $750 per week, paid through their employer*

The tenant’s lost income per week is $50 per week, which is less than 25% of the tenant’s original income.

The stop on termination notices and applications for eviction orders due to rental arrears does not apply to this tenant.

Increase in income due to government support payments

A tenant pays $300 per week in rent under their tenancy agreement

The tenant earned $650 per week but lost their job due to business closures following public health orders

The tenant now receives income support of around $1,400 per fortnight, or $700 per week, paid through their employer

The tenant’s income has now increased as a result of the Commonwealth payment: instead of $1,300 per fortnight, they now earn $1,400 per fortnight*

The stop on termination notices and applications for eviction due to rental arrears does not apply to this tenant, because there has been no reduction in their total income.

Tenant and co-tenant in a family household. The tenant loses income and gets income support

A family pays $750 per week in rent in total and the adults are co-tenants under their tenancy agreement

Tenant A earns $1,000 per week, while their partner tenant B earns $500 per week

Tenant A loses their job due to business closures, but is receiving a government payment of around $1,100 per fortnight or $550 per week*

There is no impact on tenants B’s income

The lost household income is equal to $450, which is equal to 30% of the original household income

The stop on termination notices and applications for eviction orders due to rental arrears applies to this household.

Tenant is sole breadwinner, tenant loses income and gets income support

A tenant pays $600 per week in rent under their tenancy agreement and is the sole breadwinner for the family

The tenant loses their job due to the business closures following the public health order announcements. The tenant’s income was previously $1,000 per week

The tenant receives income support payments from the government of around $1,500 per fortnight, which equals $750 per week*

The loss in household income is equal to $250 per week which is 25% of the original household income

The stop on termination notices and applications for eviction orders due to rental arrears applies to this household.

Share household where all tenants are on the main lease

Two friends share a house and are named on the lease.

The rent is $1000 per week

Tenant A earns $1200 per week and tenant B earns $800 per week, making a combined household income of $2000 per week

Tenant A loses their job and now receives $1115 per fortnight which is around $557 per week.

The combined income of the household is now $1357 per week

The loss in income is $643 per week, which is 32% of the original household income.

The stop on termination notices and applications for eviction orders due to rental arrears applies to this household

Share household with head tenant and sub-tenant on a written lease with head tenant

Two friends share a house and the rent payable on the main lease is $1000 per week

Tenant A is the head tenant and has a written sub-tenancy agreement with Tenant B

Tenant A earns $1200 per week and tenant B earns $800 per week, making a combined household income of $2000 per week

Tenant A loses their job and now receives $1115 per fortnight which is around $557 per week.

The combined income of the household is now $1357 per week

The loss in income is $643 per week, which is 32% of the original household income

The stop on eviction orders being issued due to rental arrears applies to Tenant A’s agreement with the landlord

As Tenant B’s income has not changed, the stop on notices for termination and eviction does not apply to Tenant B’s sub tenancy agreement with tenant A.

I need more support and information
Trained dispute resolution officers in Fair Trading are available to help landlords, managing agents and tenants to negotiate temporary changes in rental arrangements, if agreement cannot be reached between parties.

When you seek assistance with negotiations, we may need to obtain some initial information before it can schedule a time to discuss the matter with both parties.

How to seek help
If you have attempted to negotiate a rental plan without success you can apply for assistance by completing the Tenancy Complaint Form.

Apply for assistance
Tenants will be asked to provide evidence that they are experiencing financial hardship, such as:

proof of temporary or permanent job loss (eg, employer separation letter, evidence of reduced shifts)

proof that your business has suffered due to COVID-19 (eg, type of business – noting that some are now the subject of a government ban and cannot operate)

proof of previous employment income and current income (eg, bank statement, payslip)

proof of Government income support payments or applications made (eg, statement or advice/acknowledgement from Centrelink)

Tenants will need to assess the amount of rent that they are able to pay and the type of rental arrangement requested, for example:

Reduce my rent by $100 a week for a period of six weeks, or

Reduce my rent by $200 a week until employment resumes

Copies of your evidence can be uploaded from your mobile device and attached to the complaint form.

How long is the process?
We will be treating negotiation requests as a matter of priority and will respond as quickly as possible.

The timing for each negotiation process will be largely influenced by the demand for the service as well as whether parties can provide the requested information in a timely manner.


https://www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au/resource-library/publications/coronavirus-covid19/property/moratorium

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How to make your property stand out in an oversupplied rental market

Recently, I met with the owner of a two-bedroom apartment in Neutral Bay who was struggling to attract tenants. He pointed to the flood of new properties in the area and believed his older apartment wouldn’t be able to compete in an oversupplied rental market.

While an oversupply means renters have more choice and bargaining power, as the landlord, the onus is on you to ensure your property stands out and is worth bargaining for.

Here are seven ways to make your property stand out in an oversupplied rental market to secure a great tenant and fetch the highest rent possible:

1. Create great first impressions, inside and out

First impressions matter when a prospective tenant inspects your property. Inspecting tenants are more attracted and willing to pay the asking price for a well-presented property.

While inside should be tidy and uncluttered, the outside is typically the first thing people see. So, it’s important to take into account the exterior of the property, including the lawn, paths, railings, gutters, and fencing.

If you own a strata unit, you should consider the condition of the common property, such as the foyer, stair wells, elevators, driveways and gardens. Speak with the owner’s corporation to ensure repairs and maintenance are upheld. The state of the building will influence the way prospective tenants perceive your unit.

2. Make it sparkle

Set a high standard of cleanliness. Make sure the property is clean, fresh, and hygienic in your listing photographs and on inspection day. The new tenant will know the condition the property must be in when they hand back the keys.

Consider having the carpets and window coverings professionally cleaned and removing grime and dust from windows and fly screens to allow in more light.

Rid the property of any odours, such as cigarette or pet smells, which can be easily detected by inspecting tenants.

2. Enhance the best features

Use professional photos to capture the features of your property in the best light and from the best angle. Professionally photographed properties stand out online; they grab the attention of prospective tenants, drive more enquiries and can result in getting your property leased faster.

To gain an even greater edge in a competitive market, you may want to consider property styling to enhance the ambience and functionality of your property – virtual stylists are an easy and affordable option.  

Stylists and experienced real estate photographers understand what appeals to tenants and know how to enhance the attractiveness of your property to maximise your listing.

3. Focus on the strengths

Marketing the property with an accurate description is essential but it’s also important to include stand out qualities of the property.

While you must include the essentials such as the number of rooms, specific features and rent cost, your description should also include attractive features that will appeal to a broad segment of tenants. This may include views, family-friendly street, proximity to transport, easy access to shops, schools, hospitals and other amenities.

If you’ve recently renovated, upgraded the appliances, or installed a pet door, make it known. This additional information could set your property apart from the one around the corner.

4. Fix what is broken

Make sure your property – from the front path to the back fence – is in good working condition. Which would you choose if you had the choice to rent a property in need of repair or one in perfect working order?

Fixing what is broken and doing small repairs and maintenance prior to inspection could prevent a bigger, more costly problem down the line. And could also cause less interruption and frustration for the tenant.

5. Tend to the small things

While tenants tend to prefer a new property, well-renovated and well-kept homes are often equally as appealing. Tending to the small, but important aspects of your property can add value.

If your property is tired and dated, interior cosmetic renovations are a cost-effective way to refresh the look and feel of your rental. This could include giving drab walls a fresh coat of paint, replacing well-worn carpet and updating lighting and other fixtures. These small things can add to the appeal of your property and potentially increase rent.

Before beginning any cosmetic renovation it’s a good idea to seek advice from your property manager about which improvements will deliver the best return.

6. Know the rules

Even in a competitive rental market it’s crucial that all aspects of your property meet current regulations, safety guidelines and efficiency standards. This includes pool fences, railings, balconies, blinds, windows, smoke detectors, and electrical and water. It’s important that you make certain all are in adequate working order prior to having new tenants. Ensure that all electrical wiring and power points are safe, including electrical appliances to be included in the tenancy. And be sure to take out comprehensive insurance cover on the property prior to the inspection, including public liability. Your property manager will be able to advise you of the laws relevant to your property.

I’m Brigitte Stills of Stills Properties. Contact me on 0419 426 038 if you’re looking for, or have, a property for let. Or, if you’re an Agent/Property Manager searching for more tips on how to succeed in a difficult rental market with pro-active marketing of the properties on your rent-roll.


Pro-active Property Manager succeeds in tough rental landscape

Every Property Manager will easily recognise the snapshot above is from Domain’s website. From 12/09/18. It’s current. This is Sydney’s rental market right now.

I’d hazard a guess that most of our current generation of Property Managers have never experienced a market as difficult as this in which to let property. Stills Properties has been around a while and I can remember the bad old days of 2006 when we all struggled to let property across the board.

Thinking back on those difficult times I wanted to share some thoughts on how we, as Property Managers and Agents, might help ourselves and our clients through the current difficulties.

Let’s all be more Pro-active in our search for reliable tenants!

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