Spreading Maintenance Costs

It is summertime and the 100 degree heat is here! Inevitably, this means that many of your HVAC units are going to have problems.

Every year, the first big heat wave draws a flurry of tenant-driven work orders regarding their air conditioners. Being good property managers, we immediately attempt to repair the air conditioners. The only problem is there are about 100 broken air conditioners for every 1 certified HVAC technician in the area… And guess what? The shoddy AC units will all break on the same day. This means that your demand will be higher than your manpower, and the technician can’t repair them all in one day, and you are going to have displeased tenants.

At Castle Management, we encourage all of our tenants to test their HVAC units in the Spring. HVAC repairman are readily available in the spring, and often at lesser rates. There is no way to completely prepare against all air conditioner problems that will occur in the summer, but at least we can lessen the load and start attacking the problem in the months leading up to it. As professional property managers, this is exactly the kind of thing we do to save our clients’ money. So think about hiring your own professional property management firm, and consider Castle when you do.

How Important Is Parking to Potential Apartment Tenants?

Have you heard about the recent drop in the growth of per capita vehicle miles traveled?

Since 2008, this measurement of car use has declined. According to a blog post titled "Has Growth in Automobile Use Ended?" on the National Transportation Systems Center blog, the metric typically declines during a recession, but this time it hasn't really picked back up during the recovery. The post's authors note that the decline has been driven in part by "a reduction in driving by young adults." They cite the economy as a major reason why, with gas prices (until quite recently) being relatively high in nominal terms, unemployment and underemployment being sluggish to drop, and e-commerce and online shopping replacing things like trips to the mall.

Whether the drop is a cyclical or secular trend remains to be seen, but it has caught the attention of those with a lot at stake in changing driving trends: car companies. An article from Fast Company suggested that young people are often more interested in owning gadgets like smartphones than automobiles, and that the internet has supplanted some of the things one used to need a car to do.

As you might imagine, this has led automobile companies to rethink their marketing. And it has also led some developers of multi-family communities to try to adapt new developments to the perceived reduced need for parking. A post on Streetsblog USA noted that new multi-family construction projects in cities around the country sometimes allot far fewer parking places to their plans than they had in the past, with some developments in dense cities like Boston and even Miami occasionally even forgoing on-site parking altogether.

In the Bay Area, some recently proposed apartment development projects have altered the standard ratio of units to parking spaces. The San Jose Mercury News, for instance, recently reported on a proposed 202-unit development in San Carlos that would include just 288 parking spaces. Termed the "San Carlos Transit Village," the development intends to attract residents who prefer to use CalTrain and other forms of public transit. The organization Plan Bay Area was formed to help encourage the development of more transit-oriented housing developments in years to come.

Of course, car ownership is still a practical necessity in less dense places that aren't well-served by public transit. The National Transportation Systems Center blog post suggested, for example, that in many cases the decline in vehicle miles driven seems to track declines in employment, and that it does not correspond with a notable uptick in overall public transit use. In other words, fewer people driving to work may not mean that they're walking, riding the bus, or telecommuting.

If it's fair to say that people in some of the Bay Area's most car-centric parts don't live close enough to work to walk, it's likely that many apartment tenants in similar metros are still going to want to drive. That may be why "parking" (along with things like "closets," "newer kitchen appliances," and "laundry") shows up so frequently in the comments on this Apartment Therapy post asking for lists of the "Top 5 Things Renters Look For?" The post is from 2008, at the start of the recent decline in per capita vehicle miles driven, but if gas prices remain low and the economy continues to improve, it's possible that renters will want to own — and park! — their cars at their apartment community.

For Bay Area property developers and managers, catering that need still probably means providing some sort of on-site parking.

Has Growth in Automobile Use Ended? [U.S. Department of Transportation]
Millennials Don't Care About Owning Cars and Car Makers Can't Figure Out Why [Fast Company Co.Exist]
Real Estate Trend: Parking Free Apartment Buildings [Streetsblog USA]
Top 5 Things Renters Look For? [Apartment Therapy]
New version of San Carlos Transit Village comes without underground parking garage [San Jose Mercury News]
Plan Bay Area [Plan Bay Area]

How Much Do Online Reviews Matter for Apartment Communities?

How much attention do renters pay to online apartment reviews? Quite a bit, according to a survey conducted earlier this year. An article about the survey on Multifamily Executive noted that nearly 7 out of 10 respondents are likely to consult online review sites as they're making a decision about where to live. Less than 10% of respondents said that reviews weren't important at all.

The survey also offered some other interesting takeaways. For instance, survey respondents were slightly more likely to consider apartment communities with almost all positive reviews than they were to consider communities with entirely positive reviews. Likewise, many renters looked favorably on apartment communities that responded to online reviews.

As you might expect, younger renters were very likely to look for reviews online, especially when they were moving to a new city.

If you'd like to learn more about the survey, click here to read about it on Multifamily Executive.

Broaden Your Prospects with Proper Pet Policies

Do you allow pets?

According to the ASPCA, there are somewhere between 70 and 80 million dogs in the country, and somewhere between 74 and 96 million cats. The organization also estimates that about one third of U.S. households have pets — a huge number of potential tenants looking for pet-friendly apartments. The ASPCA notes that one of the most common reasons people relinquish pets is that their home does not allow them, and it's also likely that a huge number of renters looking for apartments choose to ignore multifamily communities that do not allow pets.

A 2014 Multifamily Executive article offered the suggestion that "pet owners make up 30 percent to 40 percent of all multifamily renters." A chart on marketplace.org suggests that more than 35% of people earning between $60,000 and $84,999 per year have cats, and that more than half of people earning between $75,000 and $84,999 have dogs.

In other words, apartment communities that don't allow pets may be ignoring about a third of potential prospects, including many higher-income households.

Pet Statistics [ASPCA]
Reining Cats and Dogs [Multifamily Executive]
Behind the Data: Pet ownership by income bracket [marketplace.org]

Residents Who Operate Daycare Centers

In California, apartments can be used as daycare centers — if there are six children or less.

As long as this rule is followed, Castle proactively works with residents to ensure that kids, parents, and neighbors have a pleasant environment. That means things like coordinating drop-off and pick-up times to keep parking lots clear, and making sure activity areas stay in good shape.

But it's usually pretty easy. Most small daycare centers are no more than two or three children, with little impact to life on our properties. 

 

Pre-Move Out Walkthroughs

 

Our residents want their security deposits back. Consequently, they're clean, well-behaved, and treat their apartments like homes they're proud of.

Still, things happen. Maybe a glass of red wine got knocked off a table, or the wall got scratched while moving furniture. That's part of life, and in the pre-move out walk-through that we're obligated to offer under California law, we point out issues like this so residents have the chance to fix them and receive their full security deposit when the lease ends.

Some landlords and property managers skip walkthroughs, but Castle always offers them no less than two weeks prior to move out. If residents take us up on it, we immediately give them a written list of any issues we find.

Many residents choose to skip walkthroughs, though, because at move-in we gave them tips on how to get their security deposit back, and a price list for repairs. They know exactly what we expect from them, and we give them a fair chance to perform the needed work.

Walkthroughs protect our clients, and they're part of treating residents with worth and dignity. That's what we do every day. That's the Castle Difference.

 

Bedbug Fines

Been to the movies lately? What about an airport or bus station? Have you stayed at a hotel? 

Then you may have been exposed to bedbugs. Even if just a few of the nasty critters hitch a ride in your sock or suitcase, you probably won't know it — until your home is overrun with them.

Bedbugs are easy to catch, and we're all at risk. That's why it's almost impossible to pinpoint the cause of bedbug outbreaks in apartment complexes. Castle doesn't fine residents for bedbug infestation, because in the course of their daily lives most residents are likely to encounter them. 

This is an evolving issue in the industry, but we think it's best to focus on bedbug prevention and extermination. It's not only the fair thing to do — it protects our clients from costly and time-consuming litigation.

 

 

Castle Wants to Hear From You

 

A few years ago, Castle Vice President and Executive Property Manager Joe Lawton made an important change to his life.
 
He put his cell phone number in e-mail signature.
 
You might think we're exaggerating, but Joe disagrees. "For our business, it was a revelation," he says. "Our customers saw a direct line to me, which says a lot about Castle's level of concern and responsiveness. Our managers are fantastic problem-solvers on the ground, but when a customer needs me, my door is open. Putting my cell phone number out there makes us more efficient and even helps draw new business."
 
At Castle, every single member of our team knows your business and works for you. We want you to call us. It helps us get better.
 
Want to know more about Castle? Drop Joe a line, or call him on (925) 216-0680.

Residential Leases

When more than one person is sharing an apartment, we normally get everyone on the lease.

One lease saves paperwork, of course, but it also protects our landlord's interests. Even if three roommates decide to swim to Tahiti, the fourth is still responsible for paying the rent.

We may make an exception in college towns, when we often get a premium rent in return for separate leases. And when it comes to breaking a lease early, it depends on the circumstances; if the market is promising and the resident has been a good neighbor, we'll consider it. But that's rare, and as always, the final decision lies with our clients. 

 

Guest Cards

How do Castle property managers draw new business?

The answer might surprise you. Sure, the leasing office looks nice; maybe there are flowers outside or bottles of water on the table. Our brochures and websites are top-notch. But here's our secret weapon: it's a smiling, knowledgable manager who hangs a 'NOW LEASING' sign out front.

Yes, that's all. Our managers engage everyone who crosses the threshold, getting them to fill out guest cards that tell us what type of apartment they're looking for, how they found us, etc. Guest cards are essential for building leads and waiting lists, and for judging the effectiveness of our advertising. Since this information can change from block to block, there's no substitute for some good, old-fashioned conversation in the leasing office.

We don't forget that little things mean a lot. That's the Castle Difference.

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