Fill Your Rooms, and Reduce your Voids Forever

Are you struggling to fill your rooms after the Christmas and New Year lull? Have your tenants moved out, leaving your HMO rooms suddenly empty? Or maybe the New Year has brought your tenants new job opportunities in other parts of the country, and now you’ve got a whole series of rooms that need to be filled. Maybe you’ve been in the HMO game for a while now, but are finding that your voids are getting longer, and therefore your profit is slowly dropping?

If that’s you, don’t start panicking. This is the time to take action, re-educate yourself and get a grip by being creative and clever. It’s easy to blame the competition, the economy, Brexit, or other reasons for not filling our rooms. I’ve learnt though that getting out of BED is the best way to avoid that trap. What do I mean?

Getting out of

Blame

Excuses

Denial

Facing the facts, dealing with reality and tackling your voids head on. I can assure you that if you do this, you will be ahead of the competition, and you’ll be learning to flex that business muscle that needs tension from time to time to make it stronger!

I’ve got some tips to give you some quick wins and some longer-term strategies that will help you fill your rooms immediately and keep them filled for longer (thus avoiding voids).

  1. Review the room. This may sound basic, but a lot of people just think they can re-rent the same room again and again without actually checking the standards of paintwork or overall décor and furnishings. Is the house starting to look a little bit worn? Do some items need replacing? Could it do with a bit of an uplift?

A lot of rooms suffer from a bit of faded glory once they’ve had a tenant living there for a couple of years. Upgrading a wall to a feature wall, adding some new pictures or a large mirror, and re-dressing the room with coordinating soft furnishings (cushions and accessories) could do the trick. Take some brand new photos and get some feedback from others. Why not do a video while you have the chance? Getting a 360̊ view of the room not only helps to sell the room, but also captures the standard that you have achieved.

  • Analyse your advertising. Have you ever asked anyone to be a secret shopper on your website or on your SpareRoom ads? Ask a few friends to pretend to be a tenant looking for a room (they need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of an HMO tenant)!  After a few days, go back and ask them what was their experience of trying to book a viewing? What was their experience interacting with your website? Did the advert give them the information they needed? What did they like / not like? What could you change as a result?

Does your advertising follow the four-step AIDA principles?

  1. Attention – getting your potential market to take notice of your advert through pictures, a great headline and maybe a special offer
  2. Interest – raising your audience’s interest through the logical information you provide, and the response you give to their enquiry
  3. Desire – using emotive words and phrases to create desire for living in  your accommodation
  4. Action  – giving your tenant clarity about how to take action to book a viewing or reserve a room.

If your advert is missing one of those steps, you’ll find that people might be interested, they might look at the rooms, they might think your photos are beautiful, but they won’t do what you want them to do: Which is to pick up the phone and text or call you to make a booking.

  • Maximise your organic reach on social media before paying for ads. If you’re on Facebook Marketplace, or Instagram and have a website listed on Google, you can use the power of pixels and organic keywords before you have to pay for advertising. On SpareRoom it can be worthwhile from time to time to boost your advert. But the problem is that it can be very expensive, and it is unpredictable. What tenants are mostly looking for when they come on to any organic post or advert (including SpareRoom) is a fast response time. If you’re responding quickly, and you’re booking in viewings, you will fill your rooms. Good advertising copy is one part of that, but it’s not the only factor. If you’re responding quickly, and you’re booking in viewings, you will fill your rooms.
  • Referrals. Having a referral system for your current tenants is invaluable. By incentivizing your current tenants to find other tenants equally as good as them, you will save time and money and fill your house easily. The problem is the incentive needs to be really good!  You know yourself, if you bought something that you thought was really great, such as an amazing product or service, you’ll tell everybody else about it. If your tenants are having a great experience living in one of your houses what could you do to encourage them to share this with their friends too?
  • Partnerships in the community. There will be organisations in your local community who will offer services to your tenant group, with whom you could create a mutually beneficial arrangement. You’re offering accommodation, but are they offering something that tenants might also be interested in? By sharing each other’s services you each benefit from free advertising and additional reach. 
  •  Sales technique. Whether or not you personally sell your rooms, whoever is actually carrying out the viewing needs to be great at sales. Are people making appointments to come and view but then you’re failing to close the deal? Do people book viewings and turn up, but you never hear from them again? Your ability to close the deal – that is, to get commitment from them there and then is vital to reduce voids.

Don’t be scared to ask people for a down payment in situ to hold the room. It could be that you ask for them to complete an application for plus a payment of £50 which then comes off their deposit. It’s a completely legal way to get somebody to sign and seal the deal there and then, filling one of your rooms, and making their decision much easier. Send a receipt for the amount you have collected, along with any terms and conditions.

I’d love to hear how you get on implementing these tips to help you reduce those voids and fill your rooms – not just for now but forever. There are lots of people looking for rooms so let’s get that message out there to the marketplace!

If you’d like to follow my hints and tips for successful HMO investing please join my Facebook group – The Ultimate HMO Success System – https://facebook.com/groups/TheUltimateHMOSuccessSystem/

My training company HMO Success offers courses starting from just £47  (+ vat). If you’d like to receive my regular newsletter with offers, special deals and competitions, please email hello@wendywl.uk and we’d be delighted to add you to the list! 

www.hmosuccess.co.uk

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Tenanting without Tears – How to fill your HMO rooms!

For many property investors, the excitement of investing in a House of Multiple Occupation (HMO) consists of finding the right property, buying it and then refurbishing it to just the right standard – just enough to attract tenants but not too much so that you blow the budget.

Many property courses focus on sourcing and refurbishment of a property, but if you can’t fill your rooms the investment falls apart.

Often you might use a lettings agent to rent out your property, saving you the time and hassle of finding the right tenants. Many agents are not familiar with the unique configuration of HMOs and if this is your first HMO you will need to start to look for an agent quite early on to ensure you choose one who is experienced at letting HMO rooms.Finding tenets for HMO rooms

Alternatively, you might choose to let and manage the property yourself. Which route you choose will depend on a number of factors such as:

a) How close you live to the property
b) How large the property is
c) Whether it is licensed or not
d) Whether you plan to grow the lettings side of your business
e) How much time you have
f) Whether you want to do it!

 

It’s important to have a process which will help you FIND the right tenants, SCREEN the right tenants, KEEP the right tenants and enable you to turn your rooms round quickly at the end of the tenancy for the process to begin all over again! I’ve named the process ‘‘Tenanting without Tears’, a process refined over my many years of managing my own property portfolio. There isn’t many situations I’ve not experienced over the years!

 

FINDING TENANTS
There are five steps to finding tenants:

1. PREPARING

Present the house and rooms in an appealing way by dressing and staging them beforehand
Price the rooms according to value, size and amenities
Photograph and video all the rooms in the property for all advertising portals you’ll use
Prepare all the information you’ll need for the viewings

If you prepare thoroughly for letting a room this will save you lots of time and effort later trying to recapture the same information and will form the basis of future room rentals which will allow you to leverage your time from the get-go.

2. ADVERTISING

Create your advert. Use the acronym AIDA to formulate your advert –
 Attention
 Interest
 Desire
 Action
You will spark the interest of a potential tenant by using a great strapline or unusual feature in your advert. Keep their interest with an appealing and well-written advert. Increase their desire by describing how they will benefit from living in this property and then create a call
to action to encourage them to respond.

3. VIEWING

In order to rent a room quickly, you have to reply to requests for viewings fast and promptly. As soon as you have interest from a prospective tenant, call them to arrange a time to view. Take their name, mobile phone number and email if possible. On this call ascertain the timeframe
for their move, their budget and their occupation. Once you have a time and date agreed, note this in your diary and include the telephone number of the person. When you carry out viewings you are ascertaining whether the tenant is right for you as well as if they want to rent a room from you.

4. SECURING

If the tenant decides to take the room you need to take some form of payment to secure the room and remove it from any further advertising. You may wish to email them a receipt as confirmation and also confirmation of the tenancy. At this point take their personal details
such as name, current address, telephone number and email; their job and salary details; the details of referees and in what capacity are they known by the referee; and information about identification being provided.

5. MOVING IN

After all paperwork has been completed, spend some time explaining to the tenant what is required from them and what the rules and regulations are. Explain what they should do in the event of an emergency and your office opening hours.
Courtesy Call – A week after your new tenant has moved in call them, email them or text them to ask how everything has gone and check that they are settling in well. Any problems can be ironed out faster and any teething problems dealt with. You can reiterate your commitment to the standards they can expect (and outline your office hours too)!

6. MOVING OUT

When a tenant gives you their notice to leave, there are some simple steps to follow to ensure the move-out happens swiftly and smoothly and to ensure you have no hiccups and don’t face major maintenance issues.

 

To see the full version of ‘Tenanting without Tears’  and more of my easy to use suggestions for creating a high cash-flowing HMO business in my best selling book ‘101 Essential Tips for Running a Professional HMO – Giving you time, money and freedom’.
Currently available for Free (Just pay P&P). Visit http://www.101essentialtips.co.uk/ to claim your copy!

The Insider Guide to Using Spareroom

*This article first appeared in HMO Magazine - The Go-To Magazine for HMO Landlords,
 Investors and Developers

Knowing how to get your goods to market is vital if your business is going to succeed, and this is no exception when it comes to renting rooms. When Spareroom (the UK’s largest flat-sharing website) was launched, it changed the landscape for HMO property investors overnight. There is an argument that it enabled the sector (particularly professional HMOs) to grow exponentially as it allowed landlords and investors to have an immediate and interactive presence on the internet. Even if they had no website, marketing strategy or smartphone, the power of Spareroom was that it removed the pain of advertising for landlords, placing any room directly in front of a willing and ready buying audience.

Spareroom website screenshot.
https://www.spareroom.co.uk/

Since its inception in 2004 Spareroom has continued to be top of the room-renting listings portals and has developed additional features and benefits for both tenants and landlords. There are a number of aspects of which you may not be aware, and in this post, I want to share some of those functions which may help you reduce room voids and increase your profits – particularly if you are not familiar with some of the newer and more dynamic features of the site.

Reduce room voids and increase your profits

Spareroom is an online environment which changes daily. It is a site where prospective tenants and aspiring landlords create profiles and upload photos and videos with ease.  They get over 2 million visitors every month – that’s 11 times the circulation of the Guardian. Much like online dating, there are constant matches, suggestions and recommendations being made to tenants and landlords. Unless you are aware of the speed at which the site can change, you will probably miss out on potential tenants who could be ideally suited to your property.

Be active not passive

Unlike many marketplaces where you cannot see your customer, Spareroom helps connect you directly to people who may be interested in renting a room. In a busy marketplace where choice abounds and there are a number of good looking rooms to choose from, what sets you apart from the rest? Research tells us that tenants prefer to rent from private landlords or people that they feel they can connect with, and who they feel care about them. They don’t like to be treated just like a number (well who does)? They also stay longer in properties where the landlord takes maintenance, customer care and service seriously and puts tenants’ needs first. So rather than waiting for prospective tenants to contact you, you can carry out a search for your ideal tenants on ‘Rooms wanted’ by typing in your chosen location (i.e. the location of your HMO). This will bring up a list of people who are looking to rent in your area, along with their budget. Send them a friendly message, inviting them to arrange a viewing of your property (along with a link to the advert). This also allows you to decide on people who look like a good fit with your property and ensure they meet your requirements. The personal invitation to view is a great way to demonstrate your proactivity. Make sure you read their preferences first though otherwise it won’t look as if you really care if they’ve stated they want a large double ensuite room and all you have to offer is a single with a shared bathroom!

 

Statistics and measurement

One of my maxims in life is ‘Treasure what you measure and measure what you treasure’! If renting your rooms is valuable to you then it’s crucial to know how that well-crafted and beautifully photographed advert is performing (and if it’s neither of these please see below for further help and advice)! When you log into your account go to your advert management page (where all your ads are listed  – called ‘My Placed Ads’). Halfway down you will see a small box named ‘Featured Ads’ and there is a clickable link- ‘Settings and statistics’ which shows the number of times your advert has been seen and clicked on in the previous week (or chosen period of time). One of the key components in keeping your advert at the top of the listings is how often you edit it, and how many click throughs you receive. Keep your advert fresh by occasional edits, changes and re-wordings. Ensure the photos show your rooms off to the best possible standards and please, please, please dress for success! Above all, don’t let your advert languish. Otherwise your clickthrough rate will rapidly diminish and you’ll end up on page 9. Where no-one goes …

If you are still struggling to get enough views of your advert, here is a brief explanation of the ways to upgrade and boost your chances even more:

 

Advertising Upgrades

Three additional services that you can upgrade to are:

  • Early Bird
  • Bold Advertising
  • Featured Advertising

 

Early Bird status allows all new prospective tenants to see your advert as soon as they log in or create their profile. [Named Early Birds by dint of paying extra to see new adverts first. It doesn’t mean they are early risers – please don’t confuse the two]. If you have not paid for Early Bird status it will be a few days before your advert is placed before new tenants, losing you time and valuable viewing opportunities.

Bold Advertising enables your ad to be displayed with a lovely blue border around it this differentiating it from the standard grey border, and enhancing the placement of the listing.

For these services you can pay for a monthly, 3-monthly, or annual fee for a defined number of property adverts. If you wish to add further properties to the Bold Advertising pass this is possible too. Usually, Early Bird and Bold Advertising are purchased together.

Featured Ad status is a pay-per-click service. This works on the basis of a bid price which is calculated by Spareroom’s internal algorithm. It takes into account the number of rooms available in your locality, the level of competition for top advertising space, and the number of potential matches for your advert. As I mentioned earlier, Spareroom is a dynamic advertising environment which means that there can be rapid transactions taking place simultaneously. You can find that one day the cost to place your room advert at number one position is 80p and then a week later, £1.20. To understand the way Featured Ad status works and how to get to number one position, you need to go to ‘My Featured Ad’ page (which you get to by clicking on ‘Settings and stats’)  accounts management page and click the tab named ‘Rankings’. Here you will be able to assess the current ranked status of your advert and decide how much you are willing to pay to be at number one in the rankings.  You can then decide how much to pay for the privilege of number one position by going to ‘Individual Ad Bids’ (on the same page).

 

It is worth considering Featured Ad status if you have one particular room that you’re finding hard to shift. Avoid having a number of adverts all featured at once, or you’ll find you are bidding against yourself and then having the difficult choice of which one to prioritise.

Otherwise, remember the tips above to keep your advert fresh and current to raise enough interest to rent your room.

 

Information and advice

Spare room recognises that the site has many facets and if you are new to online advertising you may need some additional advice and help. If you click on the ‘Info and advice’ tab in the top right-hand corner of the site you can gain further access to useful information and examples about how to improve your advert, how to create a video, how to describe your room, how to market your property effectively, and much more.

 

Spareroom is a marvellous resource if you know how to use it. But it can be overwhelming and confusing too! For a free webinar with further information about ‘How to Harness the Power of Spareroom’ please visit my website www.hmosuccess.co.uk and register with your name and email address.

Free webinar insider guide to Spareroom
Free webinar insider guide to Spareroom, register now!

 

 

 

Nike, Adidas or Puma -does your brand really matter when it comes to HMO rooms?

footwearBelieve 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.