Believe it or not, what you do, how you do it, what you say and how you say it says a LOT about YOU. And that applies to properties and HMOs too. If you’re not convinced, let me share how your BRAND speaks volumes to your customer.
Let’s say you are a prospective tenant called Paul, a working young professional, perhaps starting a new graduate trainee scheme in a new area. You don’t want to rent a flat with all the encumbrances of bills and direct debits. You just want to pay one price for fully-inclusive rent. Simples! The answer is of course to rent a room in an HMO – a shared property where you have a private bedroom and possibly ensuite, but shared kitchen and outside areas. You will have to take on some of the responsibilities of emptying bins, locking up and cleaning your own room, but if you haven’t mastered those things by the time you’re 21 what use is good parenting or a University education??
So, you are quite prepared to take the ups with the downs of communal living, and you start searching on Spare Room (self-proclaimed number one website for house shares in the UK). There are a number of vacancies in the area you’re searching and you’re pleased with the choice. As you start to examine the photos and the descriptions of the properties, you notice some stark differences between the adverts. Some have great photos of lovely rooms, presented well and with detailed descriptions of what’s in the all-inclusive price. Others look frankly neglected – a mattress with obvious stains and an unmade bed; mismatching furniture, and blurry photos taken on a dated phone camera after the cameraman had had one too many lunchtime pints at his local. You’re reaction is ‘Yuk, who would want to rent THAT room?’
Two very different offerings and two very different brands. Probably two very different landlords and two very different sets of tenants. Not necessarily two different sets of profit figures though, which might surprise you. There is a market for both. At the lower end of the market there is a need, a great need, for cheap, simple and basic accommodation. True, the tenants you attract may also be described as such, but as long as they pay on time and look after the place, are you bothered?
On the other hand, you might want to corner the local market for more up-scale, trendy rooms which demand a higher price tag but can also demand a more discerning and, ahem, a more demanding clientele. In this case, Paul has a choice. He can choose to pay more for a more luxurious room, but in his mind he might also be wondering, ‘Will the landlord be a pain, checking up on me all the time? Will the other tenants be high maintenance and always complaining about stuff?’. Paul then wonders about the other room. It’s certainly cheaper and less salubrious, but it probably means he can get on with his life without any hassle. On the other hand, if there’s a leaking tap, how likely is it that this landlord will be bothered to fix it?
As Paul ponders these questions, I want to put some questions to you, dear HMO investor. You see, the way you or your agency interfaces with tenants also says a lot about your core values – are you traditional (old fashioned some might say) and do everything with paper (remember that stuff that comes from trees)? Are you highly geeky and use all the latest apps and online tools but find that an actual conversation with a person is quite stressful? Maybe you are the next and upcoming editor of HMO Vogue and know your pantone colours from your RAL codes (paint codes for the colour ignorant). Your HMOs are beautiful inside and out, but you have to rent an additional warehouse for all the arty additions displayed in your photos and you are VERY protective of your designer wallpaper.
What about communication? How do tenants contact you? Will you accept a text at all hours of the day or night? Or is it by telephone only during office hours? When a tenant moves in, what kind of impression do you create? Do you carry out an induction, explaining how everything works and the ground rules, or are you more laid back, letting know that the key is under the doormat, please keep the fridge clean, and we’ll see you in 6 months?
Each aspect of your business builds your brand – so examine WHAT you do and HOW you do it. You are conveying a message with everything you do. In marketing, professionals use the three Ms – Media, Message and Mode – and these can be directly applied to property too.
What Media are you using to communicate with your customers what does this say about you? What is the Message you are trying to convey (a better question is what emotion are you trying to elicit so that the tenant will rent your room and stay) and what Mode of communication are you using – and which modes do your tenants prefer?
The three Ms can be applied to all aspects of your business, none more so than in your interactions with the outside world – your market. For them, like Paul, they are assessing those three Ms subconsciously to be convinced that you have exactly the right room in the right house, and that they will be the right tenant paying the right price.