Finding quality tenants for your rental quickly is critical. Using an agent can be costly. I have almost exclusively found tenants without an agent. However, it is not always that easy.
You can find tenants on your own using free online services, social media, referrals and networking. No one method works for every rental. But, by using a variety of techniques one is sure to work to find tenants at little or no cost.
Before you dive in, there are important things to prepare to make sure you get quality tenants and to make the process go much more smoothly.
How to find tenants without a realtor
While every market is different, you will want to start looking for tenants about three months before the new lease term begins. When you have existing tenants, ask them if they plan to renew the lease and if so, get them to sign a new lease for the next year well in advance. If you just bought a new property and it is vacant, you will want to start your search right away.
Here are the ways to find tenants:
- Ask current tenants: If your rental property already has tenants who plan to leave, the first thing you want to do is ask them if they know anybody who would be interested in filling your vacancy. If you like the existing tenants, odds are their friends will be of similar character. I have landed many great tenants this way and did not have to do a thing but ask!
- Social media: If getting a referral from the existing tenants is not successful, then post your opening on social media. Specifically, I would use Facebook Marketplace, Nextdoor and Patch. Most towns and counties have a variety of groups set up already on each of these sites. You may need to have someone invite you but that should not be hard. Typically your post will be noticed right away where you may get some inquiries. As time passes, it may not get as many views.
- List your property on all of the Free directories: Now it is time to list your rental apartment or rental home on the free directories.
- National apartment and rental portals:
Many of these sites aggregate your listing to other sites, so there is no need to look for every listing service on the Internet. Also, there are a number of paid listing services, but you won’t get much more visits from those unless it is a local community based website.
Remember, once you find renters, it is a good idea to go back to each website to deactivate the listing.
- Place a sign in the window – Sometimes the simplest things work the best. If you are in an area with high foot traffic, this is a fantastic idea. Renters are constantly looking for their next place and seeing your sign may spark interest needed. Occasionally neighbors will even see the sign and recommend your rental to someone they know.
The sign should be big, red and have your phone number. Make sure your phone number is big and easy to read.
College off campus housing websites – Odds are there is a college within a few miles of your rental. Many colleges do not have sufficient housing for all students, and by the junior or senior year, many students don’t want to live in a dorm. They are seeking out the independence of an apartment or home rental.
A lot of colleges and universities have an off campus housing section on their website where landlords can list properties and students can look for roommates or even sublease their place. There is usually a small fee to list on these sites but it will be well worth the cost. The students will all know to look for a rental here first. Plus, you have a targeted audience and know exactly what you can expect.
- Posters in high traffic areas – Several years ago, I was talking with an account rep from Apartment Finder and asked him why they still had those small books with apartment listings in all the grocery stores. He simply said they work! The cost of printing glossy books and giving them away may have ended that practice but getting your rental in front of potential renters with a brochure or poster is still effective.
Create a simple flyer with a photo or two of your rental, some basic information and add your phone number at the bottom several times in case someone wants to rip it off. Keep your eye out for shops in the area that allow free postings and add yours.
Contact previous renters – If you have had a few renters before your current tenants, reach out to them to see if they know anybody who might be interested. Their friends and coworkers are likely to be in the same age group and social status. All it takes is one good lead and your vacancy can be filled.
- Notify other landlords – Contact landlords from neighboring properties and other neighbors to let them know you have a vacancy. Renters may know about someone else’s property but it is not available. They may want to live in the same neighborhood. Consider offering them an incentive if they help you find a quality renter.
- Create a simple website – If you have a rental that regularly changes tenants, a multi-unit property or several rental units, consider creating your own website. You can do this cheaply or even free. Many renters will complete searches such as:
Private rental in [town]
House rental in [town]
Room for rent [town]
By having your own website and a few basic SEO settings you can rank at the top of the search engines for some of these terms.
There are many options to create a simple free website such as Wix or WordPress.
You may be tempted to create a free Google My Business listing and Google website, but this is expressly against their terms of service. They do not allow GMB listings for rental properties and apartments.
- Create YouTube video – Walk around your unit with a video recorder and film each room to give viewers an idea what it is like. Then set up a free YouTube account which is easy and takes only a few minutes. Post your video and add an in-depth description.
How to prepare for finding tenants
Before you go ahead and start listing your property for rent all over the internet, you can make the process a whole lot easier by getting some documentation ready in advance.
Photos are essential for your rental listing. You don’t need a professional photographer, just take them with a smartphone. Take a picture of the outside front, kitchen, living spaces, bedrooms and anything else interesting. You may only be able to add a few to each listing but it is good to be prepared with several quality shots.
Prepare a thorough but concise description that discusses the benefits of living at your rental (close to campus, walk to train, utilities included, etc…). This is your chance to sell potential renters on 2-3 of the best qualities of your property.
Prepare a headline that sums up the biggest benefit of your property in one short sentence such as “Steps from campus so you can get to class quickly”
Before you begin listing, be sure to write down the rent and security deposit amounts you want to charge. This way it will be the same on all websites.
A good rental agent will complete a background check and a credit check to qualify tenants before they sign a lease. Be prepared with a service ahead of time so as soon as you find renters who may be a good fit, you can complete the screenings yourself
You will also want to have a valid lease agreement ready to go. This is very important as once a renter signs your lease and gives you a security deposit you have a commitment. Until this happens, your new tenant may decide to live somewhere else.
Research local banks to find one where you can quickly set up a security deposit account so when you deposit the first payment quickly. Even if you plan to accept electronic payments, you will still need to keep the security deposit funds separate.
Why many seasoned landlords don’t use an agent to find tenants
Hiring a real estate agent to rent your property is not cheap. Most charge the first month’s rent or more to do the work. When you have a mortgage and other expenses to pay, that can be a lot of money to forfeit when finding tenants is something you could do on your own.
After you have been a landlord for several years you may get a better feel for the types of tenants you want, without discriminating of course. By doing the work yourself, it is easier to determine if the renter will be contacting you with lots of questions, or may be late with the rent. When you have a choice of tenants to fill a vacancy, that information can help you maintain quality tenants for the next year.
What does an agent do anyway?
Believe it or not, there is actually a lot of effort that goes into finding tenants. A good leasing agent will know exactly what to do and can do it very quickly. As a landlord trying to rent a home on your own, you need to learn those skills and become just as efficient. With a little work, that can be easy.
One of the first things a rental agent will do is collect information about your property such as location, number of bedrooms, condition and parking.
Then an agent will complete a competitive analysis to see what the market price is for similar rentals in your area.
After that, your rental can be advertised on various online portals to attract renters. The agent may take photos, write a custom description and provide property details. Often realtors may pay fees for subscriptions to certain services.
It is important to note that many corporate relocations will use a rental agent to find an employee a rental home in a new city or town.
When it is time to show the property to tenants, the rental agent makes arrangements to meet the tenants and help them see the benefits of living in your apartment or home rental. Sometimes renters want to negotiate terms after seeing the rental such as having rooms painted, or repairs completed.
If prospective tenants seem like a good fit, your agent should complete credit and background checks to make sure they will be able to pay the rent and there is no history of bad behavior.
Finally, a contract is drafted and signed, rent and security deposit is collected, keys are handed over.
So, even though you may have the best intentions to save some money and try to find tenants without a rental agent, some landlords may be better off hiring a professional realtor to handle this time consuming process. This could be especially beneficial if you can keep your tenants happy in their new home for many years.
Filing vacancies is top priority
Finding tenants without a rental agent can be a lot of work. But, sometimes it is easy. Having everything prepared in advance and covering all of your bases will make the process a lot easier. You can certainly save a lot of money and get a better sense of who is renting your property. Keep in mind that your #1 priority for long term success as an investor is to limit vacancies. If you are not finding success on your own, sometimes it may be worth getting some help.