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Last Minute Vacancies (Published in CCAA Newsletter 9/01)
By: John Smith

Look in the newspapers. See the signs in front yards. Talk with your peers. Someone still has empty units. While I hope that each of you reading this newsletter have gotten all of your apartments and houses filled before turn-over last month, Iím certain that some of us are still dealing with units that have yet to be filled. This article is specifically written for those people.

About the last of the students and faculty with the university have trickled into Champaign and Urbana. The good news is that there will still be a few stragglers over the next few weeks. If you have got an empty, you can still turn it around, fill it up, and make it profitable. The strategy for filling it up is fairly straight forward.

First, prepare yourself to be able to show the empty unit at a momentís notice. Empty units can often be easier to fill than occupied ones because they are available to be shown twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week. As far as showing goes, only you or your management company are limited by the hours you wish to keep. Iíve gotten leases signed at nine thirty in the evening on a Friday night. Sure, it can be long hours, but each lease can be worth over six thousand dollars. Tenants arriving in town now want to find a unit, sign a lease, and move into it right away. Make it easier for them to rent your unit by being available whenever they are ready to look. This can well mean the difference between you getting the tenant or someone else getting them.

Next, when dealing with a vacant unit, you get to decide how the apartment looks instead of counting on your tenants to tidy it up. This means that you can get your fresh coat of paint on the walls, new carpet on the floor, and quality furniture in the rooms. Make your empty unit your best unit. It is often difficult to look at a vacant unit and decide to put money into it, but the cost of doing some improvements to the unit is less than the opportunity cost of having that same unit vacant for even a couple of months. If you have furnished apartments, make certain that good usable furniture is in all of the rooms. If you are renting out an unfurnished apartment, you may wish to put furniture in it for showings to help your tenants visualize what it can look like with furniture. Nothing makes an apartment look small like having it empty.

Another approach that I use is decorating the apartment. Put some pictures on the walls. Get some new towels to hang in the bathroom. Plants are an excellent touch. A general rule of thumb is that real plants are better than fake plants, but fake plants are better than dead plants! Smells go a long way as well. The smell of vanilla and the smell of cookies both help to make people feel at home. Thatís why so many furniture stores and open houses have those scents in them while you browse. So, lay on the potpourri!

Last and certainly not least, prepare yourself for each of your showings. Never approach a prospective tenant with the reek of desperation on you. Get your sales pitch down. Know the buses. Know the local restaurants. Know everything that you would want to know about that unit if you were going to be the one renting it. The confidence that youíll have after researching your unit will help put your prospective tenants at ease. Theyíre nervous, too. After all, theyíre afraid that the only apartments left are going to be in poor condition. Proudly show them your beautiful model and watch that bottom line rise.

Good luck and happy renting!

John Smith has a Master's Degree in Education, is a real estate investment and management consultant and trainer throughout the state of Illinois, and has been a real estate investor and manager for over seven years in Champaign-Urbana. To contact John Smith, email him at john@johnsmithproperties.com or call (518) 851-7820.