Filling cracks, painting walls, sanitizing, advertising — all of these tasks add up to valuable time and money. That is why apartment turnovers is something that many landlords dread. And though retaining long-term residents by encouraging renewals will help diminish the frequency of turnovers, at some point even the most faithful tenants will pack up and leave — perhaps leaving behind a mess.
That is why having a strategy in place to minimize the duration of the vacancy, while ensuring each unit is in tiptop shape for newcomers, is in every landlord’s best interest.
With 7,600 rental units across Canada under his supervision, Andrew Lowe, Oxford Properties Group’s director of multi-residential, is well aware of the importance of keeping turnovers tight.
“We strive to have our units ready as soon as possible from the moment the tenant leaves,” he explains. “In some cases, it takes as little as 12 hours. That’s the goal. You want to be renting your units back-to-back to reduce the amount of money lost. If the lease expires on the 31st of the month, then it needs to be painted, cleaned and operational by the 1st.”
In order to achieve this, Lowe says that a strict method is followed. Steps are taken in advance of the tenant’s move-out date. In fact, it all begins the moment they move in.
“An initial inspection happens when the tenant signs the lease. Together, both the landlord and tenant inspect the unit and agree on the conditions,” he says.
Later, when the tenant moves out, 60 days’ notice must be given. About 45 days out, a “pre-vacate” inspection is conducted to determine what needs to be done and what repairs are necessary.
“We look for any damage, any wear and tear throughout the unit. That way we can assess how much time we’ll need to have it ready for the new occupants,” he explains.
According to Lowe, a “standard turn” for Oxford involves cleaning the carpets, painting the walls, sanitizing and cleaning the suite, and completing minor repairs. All in all, each turnover he oversees typically costs between $500 and $600.
“If the apartment requires extensive repairs it will obviously take longer and cost more, but keep in mind that some repairs and maintenance can be done after the new tenant moves in,” he says.
Another important piece of the puzzle is communication. Lowe says a lot of it comes down to how landlords set up and manage theirs tenants’ expectations during the leasing and move-in stage: from not over promising to having an formal “move-in” inspection process. The documented condition of the suite at move-in helps to minimize disputes of who is responsible for a suite’s condition at move-out.
Once the suite has been vacated, the dirty work begins. Lowe explains that landlords can either use a general contractor, or they can do the work themselves. Both have their pros and their cons.
“When you hire a general contractor, that person will arrange the cleaning, the painting, and the repairs. They will co-ordinate each step and be your eyes on quality control,” he says. “Doing it yourself saves money, but it is also very time-consuming. You will save a few dollars but you will have to deal with all the headaches.”
The bottom line: every day without a tenant paying rent is a day without money coming in.
“Vacancy loss can have a greater impact on a smaller property,” Lowe says. “Larger properties can absorb the extended cost of vacancy needed for suites going through major upgrades or renovations in order to capture higher rents as part of a long-term business strategy.”
But whether a property is big or small, keeping the turnover process tight should always be a landlord’s primary goal.
Erin Ruddy is the editor of Canadian Apartment Magazine.