As many of you know, this summer we will be moving into our 8th rental home. And while we consider ourselves pros at this whole rental living thing, we are nevertheless humbled each and every time we have to learn a new area, a new process, and a whole lot of nuances based on the market we’re relocating into. As I sit here right now, we are (finally) emerging victorious in the hunt for our next home (cue the confetti!). And although I could not be more thrilled about our next home, this latest house-hunting process was our most stressful yet. Admittedly, I may have made it harder than it needed to be because I had very precise aesthetic requirements. Ahem. But we also needed to take into account Greg’s commute, Henry’s school, and the playability/safety for three (!!!!) little boys. Add onto that, date availability and rent specifications, and the pool of potential homes wasn’t exactly expansive. I have literally spent the last 3-4 months pouring over every listing to pop up on Zillow and our MLS feed, weighing the pros and cons of countless properties in an effort to determine if it’s the right place for our family. And while I do not claim to be any sort of real estate expert, these hours have helped me hone in on which aspects of a property listing made me consider/inquire about the home, and which ones prompted me to close the listing 5 seconds after opening it. If you are a property owner planning on renting your home, here are some really valuable things to consider when posting your house online…especially if you want it rented fast!
Pictures Are Everything
Interior Photos Required. This seems like a no-brainer, but I cannot tell you how many listings I opened that included nothing but the front-of-house shot…or, the front-of-house as well as 20 pictures of the landscaping. As a potential renter who is viewing your property from thousands of miles away, the interior pictures are the ONLY thing that will provoke me to inquire further and/or schedule a showing. Sure…seeing the landscaping is helpful, but if you don’t include any or enough interior photos, it signals to me that you are hiding something.
The More Photos the Better. When it comes to pictures, the more the better. I realize some websites restrict the number of photos for their free listings; but honestly, I can’t really figure out if your home is a real contender from just 5 photos. To prevent unnecessary showings or having to send additional pictures to prospective renters via email, upload as many quality photos of your property as you can…even if it means paying for a premier listing.
Empty Rooms Preferred. This may be more of a personal preference, but I found myself much more likely to seriously consider listings that included pictures of empty (or near empty) rooms over snapshots with the current owner’s/tenant’s stuff inside. Just like with houses that are being sold, it can be really difficult for a renter to see through a cluttered space in order to determine if it will work for them. If you are debating between pictures of empty rooms or full/furnished rooms, I recommend the empty room photos. If you don’t have empty rooms, try to empty out as much as you can in order to take photos of really clean rooms.
Step Back. You don’t need to hire a professional photographer to get shots for your listing…but please step back and get as full of a shot as you possibly can. A random up-close shot of a closet or corner is of no use to me if I can’t understand the context of it within the full room. If there are lovely details you’d like to highlight (e.g., granite countertops, built-in storage, hardwood floors, etc), those detailed shots are great. Just include them alongside photos of the entire room.
Post Current Conditions. We came across several listings where the photos were old but the description indicated a bathroom or kitchen had been upgraded. We would then have to inquire to get clarification if the upgrades were shown or if the pictures were dated. Again, to prevent unnecessary back-and-forth, only post pictures of the house in its most-current condition.
Label the Pictures. When you are in your own home, you know exactly how everything fits together and which rooms flow into another. But a stranger viewing your home via the Internet doesn’t have that point of view. As such, it can be VERY helpful to have the pictures labeled. I can’t tell you how many times Greg and I said, “I have no idea what I’m looking at.” Sure, kitchens and bathrooms are obvious, but identifying one bedroom from the next or even a family room from a basement bonus room can be tricky based on the camera angle. It was incredibly helpful on the (rare) listing that the photos were actually labeled!
Photograph Transitions. This may be another personal preference, but photographs of just the rooms sometimes aren’t enough. I need to know how everything fits together and how rooms flow from one to the next. We came across several listings that included renderings of the floor plans (either professionally done or just drawn by hand), and they were incredibly helpful in determining if a home would work for our family. If that isn’t possible, consider showing hallways, landings, and entryways to help prospective tenants understand the home’s layout.
Be Honest & Specific. I understand the importance of “buzz terms,” but you also don’t want to be misleading. If your listing says “hardwood floors throughout main level,” then I expect to see only/mainly hardwood floors in the pictures. If there is tile in the kitchen and carpet in the family room, then you really should say “hardwood floors in the foyer.” If your description says “fully remodeled bathrooms,” then I don’t expect to see original cabinetry or worn grout. Rather, you should say “upgraded bathroom light fixtures and new countertops.” I was looking for very specific features for our next rental home (e.g., hardwood floors on the main level), and I could have saved a lot of time and eliminated a lot of emailing back-and-forth if the house’s descriptions and pictures matched and were accurate.
Include These Details. Even though I am not buying your property, there are still things I really need to know about your home in order to determine if it’s the right place for me and my family. As such, the following details are incredibly helpful as I consider your home:
- Room dimensions – I need to know if my King bed will fit in your Master Bedroom or if my sectional will fit your basement. Room dimensions in combination with pictures are ideal!
- Location of the laundry room – Top floor laundry versus in the basement are two veeeery different situations…I just want to know what I’m getting myself into!
- Date the property is available – This detail can often be buried in a listing, if it’s shown at all. Please be clear when the property will be available for occupancy.
- Length of lease you want and/or would consider – We wouldn’t consider anything shorter than a 3-year lease but had to inquire about lease length every.single.time. If you are/are not open to a multi-year lease, please just say so.
- Zoned school district – We were surprised at how often Zillow had the wrong school auto-populated, so we made it a habit of double-checking if the owner didn’t specify in the description.
- Added perks. If your property comes with lawn service, pool membership, etc, include it! Those details can be the deciding factors between two great homes!
- What Conveys with the House – While kitchen appliances (e.g., dishwasher, refrigerator, etc) almost always come with the house, other household appliances don’t. If your pictures show washer/dryer, extra refrigerator, swing set, etc, please note whether these will come with the house.
Other Things That Will Help!
Neutralize Your Walls. You guys know I love color. But you know what…I love my colors, not necessarily your colors. I cannot tell you how many listings I shut down instantly because each and every wall in the entire house was painted a different color. I absolutely understand the power of paint and know that I should look past it to the house lying beneath. But do you want to know what I really see as a renter? Hundreds of dollars I will need to spend in order to get the house neutral enough that my belongings will work in it. Almost every home I “liked,” saved and eventually inquired about were all ones painted a consistent, neutral color from top-to-bottom. Even if I go in and decide to paint the baby’s room blue, I will take on that task/cost by choice, not because it’s currently hot pink and I have to paint it just to make the home livable.
Upload a Complete Listing. We had auto email notifications setup via Zillow and MLS for any property that met our location, bedroom, and rent requirements. This meant that as soon as a listing was published, we got an email about it and checked it out almost instantly. On several occasions, the listing wouldn’t be complete and would say things like “more photos coming soon.” And more often than not…we closed the listing, moved on, and never went back to check it out. So that you don’t miss out on good prospective tenants, try to have a complete listing (with all the photos) ready to upload from the very start!
Price It Right. I studied so many listings over the last few months, that when I saw a certain rent price pop up, I pretty much knew what the corresponding photos would look like. But every now and then, a house would be priced at the very top of our budget yet wouldn’t have the location, upgrades, school district or perks to warrant the price tag. Since we became so savvy on what our money could get us, we would skip right over these listings. Inevitably, we’d watch those homes sit and sit and sit, and eventually the prices would drop to where they should have been from the beginning. Setting your home’s rent right on target for both your market and the condition of the home is imperative to getting it rented fast and to the right renter. If “comps” on Zillow don’t help enough, consider having a realtor help you with pricing so you get it correct right out the gate!
Phew! Did this post feel like I was venting just a bit?!? Sorry about that. It’s just been a LOOOONG few months of analyzing listing after listing and home after home on our journey to find the perfect home for our family…and I’ve been dying to scream from the rooftops to all the property owners out there on what they can do to make this process just a little bit easier for owners and renters alike! I certainly can’t claim to know what it’s like to own a property and have to list it despite less-than-ideal circumstances (e.g., a renter who insisted on painting their whole house purple!) But I do know that so much time and false hope could have been spared on our side had a few more pictures, descriptions, and details been included from the start. If you own a home and are trying/struggling to get it rented, hopefully this point-of-view can help you make a few tiny changes to your listing and get it rented right away!
Once I recover from this most recent house-hunting rollercoaster ride, I will post my best tips on finding a house from a (very long) distance. Until then, you better bet I will be dreaming and scheming about this next house we get to make into our new home…because you guys…it’s SOOOO good!