When the colors of the leaves start to change, every property manager here in Chicago is reminded of the challenge they will face in the coming months. Moving season has come to a close, and those vacant apartments are looking like more of a burden than an opportunity. But for property managers who embrace the challenge, winter doesn’t feel quite so cold. These are the folks who will continue to get those precious leases and avoid having empty apartments in their inventory for months.
Trying to find new residents when there are simply fewer people looking to move can be an intimidating prospect, but we can look to the basic economic principle of supply-and-demand for solace. The simple truth is, in many markets, there aren’t many people looking for apartments at this time. However, the number of properties for rent is also significantly lower. In other words, demand is low, but supply is too. Competition is arguably comparable year round; it’s just a matter of keeping your nose to the grindstone.
Lower the Rent
The first step is to adjust your rent. You may not get as much as you would during the peak moving season, but the idea here is to avoid long market times (the period between putting the empty apartment on the market and collecting rent from the eventual occupants). Discounted rent is better than no rent at all.
Get More Exposure With Listings
Secondly, get the apartment listed in as many places as possible. A “For Rent” sign and a Craigslist ad alone are probably not going to get the job done. Because the renters moving during the fall and winter are very often relocating from out of state, the real question is this: where are out-of-towners searching for apartments? Frequently, these prospective renters are unfamiliar with a new city, and are turning to local apartment finders for assistance. Listing with a broker is always a great idea in the offseason because they only collect a fee if they successfully rent your apartment. Also, continuing to market the property on your own with the added assistance of an online listing is a tough strategy to beat.
Make It Desirable
Lastly, as always, make sure your property looks its best. Quality photos are essential to an online listing, so make sure the unit is spotless and gets a fresh coat of paint. The number of apartments on the market with scuffs and marks covering the walls never ceases to amaze me. If you are still having trouble finding tenants, offering incentives—free heat, parking, or cable—to renters, while painful for your own wallet, can go a long way toward getting a renter into your property during the offseason.
Maintain that Work Ethic!
When it comes down to it, getting vacant apartments off of your hands in the off-season isn’t as daunting as it seems. Natural tendencies in winter encourage hibernation and lethargy, but those who maintain their work ethic shouldn’t have too much of a problem this time of year. One final thought to keep in mind once you’ve found a renter: if possible, a shorter or longer lease (ending in Spring/Late Summer) is ideal so that you can return to collecting the normal rent in peak season. May 1st and September 1st should be your target dates for leases to begin.