The following blog post is a time-stamped, full transcript of Bob Preston's interview of Dave Borden, founder and CEO at PMW, recorded September 17, 2018 and published on the Property Management Brainstorm podcast. The audio version of this podcast can be found at this link on the North County Property Group website, as Episode 8 - Marketing Your Rental Property, Featuring Dave Borden, CEO of PMW: Property Management Brainstorm Show.
Bob Preston: 0:52 Welcome, welcome, welcome to the Property Management Brainstorm podcast. I'm Bob Preston, your host of the show, broadcasting from our little studio here in the North County Property Group office in Del Mar, California, and today we're going to talk about the importance of marketing your rental listing to find a new tenant quickly, start generating rent, and getting your home occupied. You may have the most beautiful property ever, but unless you can attract great prospective tenant, it may sit vacant for weeks. I have with me today an expert in this area by telephone, from Denver, Colorado, Dave Borden and he is the founder and CEO of PMW, which stands for property manager websites and he provides an online marketing service to people like me, property management companies who want to market themselves and their rental properties. Hey, thanks so much for joining us today, Dave!
Dave Borden: 1:44 Hey, thanks a lot, Bob. I appreciate the opportunity to come on the show!
Bob Preston: 1:47 Oh yeah, it's fantastic having you here. You're pretty much of a marketing guru when it comes to this market, so maybe you can start just by telling us about yourself, your background and the marketing services you're currently providing.
Dave Borden: 1:59 Okay. Guru is, a very generous term. I guess I'll take it for now. Depending on how far you want me to go back, my family business was property management growing up in Colorado in the eighties. My parents were busy all the time doing property management stuff, I then went away to join the army and I went to West Point and flew helicopters for a while. Then I came back around 2000 and I went into the property management business with my Mom and we had about 200 units in Colorado Springs. The market was very good at the time. It was very easy to find a tenant in a few days, kind of like it is now, but that rapidly changed, and we were putting advertisements in the newspaper and billing back for three, four, five, six, $700, which they hated, especially when they were used to paying $150 or so. So, I started a business at that time called Rent Clicks. The primary purpose of that was to advertise your properties and get it rented. We marketed it mostly to property managers and it was a big success and I sold it about three years later to Rentpath.
Bob Preston: 3:08 What timeframe was this? Like? What is this in the DOT COM era, the big, kind of the big boom dot com years?
Bob Preston: 3:13 It was right after the boom. I mean, during the boom, people were getting billions of dollars for every imaginable concept and then the market crashed and after that everyone needed to have revenue and profit to start making money like every other business. So, we were right after the boom, which was pretty good because all the big money had dried up, so we had to figure out a way to do it without raising a bunch of money. And we sold it in 2006 to Rent Path. It's still out there today. It's called Rentals.com. It's good business, but it's been supplanted by Zillow and Craigslist and some of these other services. And that's one of the reasons we sold it as we saw that wave coming. It was time to move on even though it's done, it's still done exceptionally well since we, since we left, even though it's been steady on the decline the last few years. Then I got back into the industry in 2008, went back to consul at my old company and that's when I met the group of guys I'm working with now, Property Manager Websites.com. We build and host, maintain support websites for property management companies and we provide that same discipline of SEO that we were using to get people's properties found to their property management business so that they can get new clients, attract new owners and manage their property for them for a fee which increases their business and it makes them more money. That's our primary business. We do have some products within there, a couple we'll talk about today. One of them is Free Rental Site. Primarily it's, it is a consumer site. You can search for properties here, you can put property listings on there and we will put it in our distribution. But there is a verification process that we must go through because there's so much fraud out there that we want to make sure someone's real. So, we will put them through a verification process if they want to distribute their properties. They can put it on there if they want to, but we won't allow them to take any email correspondence because that's where 99 percent of the fraud takes place, unless they have a verified account.
Bob Preston: 5:12 Okay, we'll get to that in a minute here. So, if someone wanted to contact your company or you, what would be the best way to do that?
Dave Borden: 5:18 PropertyManagerWebsites.com with an s.
Bob Preston: 5:21 Okay. There you go. Pretty easy.
Dave Borden: 5:24 A my email if you want to just hit me, is Dave@kohva.com. That's just our parent company again. That's Kohva.com.
Bob Preston: 5:34 Okay, terrific. So, let's dive right into the subject matter here and talk marketing. Full disclosure, I'm one of your clients, right? And I came to you and PMW because I wanted my property management company to be, really, everywhere on the Internet, and have high visibility. So, just your take, how are we doing so far? We're doing well with you guys?
Dave Borden: 5:54 Well, we launched your site back in April and we have your analytics back through January. Your daily usage has more than doubled in your page views have more than 150 percent up since we launched you. And looking at your lead levels, your advanced marketing platform, it looks like you had 29 leads, 29 started and 40 form leads. So, since we've launched, you've been averaging between 30 and 50 leads per month, which is in the top one or two percent of property managers nationwide. And we manage 1200 sites.
Bob Preston: 6:29 Okay. So how does that benefit not only us, I mean certainly property management prospects might be some of those leads, but also people looking to rent a property. So that kind of traffic volume, Google search and what not. How does that help our clients who are trying to get their properties rented?
Dave Borden: 6:45 Well, that was my next point is you just actually switched to our, advanced property widget, which is the only one that writes properties to the site. You guys do a fantastic job of advertising those and that is still the busiest section of any property manager's website. Even though a lot of people are searching on Zillow and Trulia and all those other sources, the good old-fashioned yard sign that you throw in the yard and people are driving around and see it. They pull up to that property, do a search on their phone and find the property, is still a huge piece of traffic for property managers. So, it's very important that you do the best job you can when advertising properties. And, since we've launched that widget, your properties widget, which again it writes all the properties directly to your site, your page views on the site have more than doubled.
Bob Preston: 7:33 Wow, fantastic.
Dave Borden: 7:33 Without getting into too much detail, because I know that's not the topic for today, usage data is one-third of an SEO algorithm and that just lifts all SEO efforts dramatically by having that available.
Bob Preston: 7:46 So I speak to a lot of prospective clients and some people think it's easy to find a renter. Today's market is hot, but it's sort of like, hey, I can just put a Craigslist ad up, people are going to come beating down the door. What are your thoughts on that? I mean, is it really that easy or how does it work from your perspective? Is there anything in today's market or any trends that you're seeing out there that might give a little bit of a different opinion?
Dave Borden: 8:11 I used to be a property manager and I can tell you right now that about five percent of what we do, what we did was find a tenant. And some markets are easier than others. This happens to be a super easy market, so I think that a lot of landlords are thinking that it's very easy to do that. You throw an ad on Craigslist and Zillow and guess what, you will get a ton of contact if you do that, but what do you do then? How do you know who to rent it to? How do you show it? How do you get people there? I mean in a market like yours in San Diego, you put a nice property on the market. Well-Priced how many leads do you get every month? A 100? Maybe 50 to 100 for that one property, so who's going to answer that phone while you're at work? Who's going to show the property? Even though it seems like it's easy to rent a property because of the demand in the market is extreme right now. The process of making it happen, getting the people in there, finding the right one is extremely complicated. It is not for a novice.
Bob Preston: 9:12 Yeah, no, that's a great point. I think that some new landlords, who are trying to do it themselves, are very ill equipped in responding to prospective tenants. You know, the phone starts ringing, the emails start coming in and it's kind of like, what do I do now? And so that's a big challenge. That might be considered more sales than marketing, but it's still part of the process, right?
Dave Borden: 9:33 Yes, it's part of the process, and there's a couple of other pitfalls to talk about a bit later, but like I said, 50 to 100 people, if you show it to 10 or 15 of them, how do you know which one to read too?
Bob Preston: 9:44 Exactly.
Dave Borden: 9:45 And that's when the hard part of property management begins. It's hey, I got someone that wants my property now what. Where do find the lease, how are you going to screen them? My business partner rented a home in Florida. It was an individual owner and she accepted him because she figured he must be a good guy because he drove the range rover. Not a good criterion.
Bob Preston: 10:07 Yeah, we always look for red flags right away. You kind of want to look for reasons not to rent to somebody, in most cases, until proven otherwise. That's kind of how I view it. Obviously, we're nice to people and we want to make sure that we're hospitable and we're showing properties, but you must be careful, no question about it.
Dave Borden: 10:24 One of the things I wanted to mention, is that when you do it yourself, and I'm not saying you shouldn't.
Bob Preston: 10:31 Nor am I, I'm Switzerland here today, so just to be clear.
Dave Borden: 10:33 There are a ton of prospects out there that have had issues in the past that target individual owners because they know they're not professional and they may not put them through the normal process of checking their credit, checking their landlord references that are property manager would. So, they may target those individual owners who may not have that professional process in place to weed out the bad renters. So, you’ve got to be careful with that.
Bob Preston: 10:58 Absolutely. Well there are hundreds of consumer oriented rental sites out there. I think Zillow, as you've already mentioned is probably the most well-known. What are the key rental sites? If you were going to list a property, Dave, what side should you be listed on?
Dave Borden: 11:11 Well, in today's market, honestly, you're going to be fine with Zillow and Craigslist and Zillow owns Trulia and Hotpads, so if you put a listing on Zillow, you're going to get those as well. You could go to a site like ours and like I said, we're going to put you through a verification process. It's going to cost like 25 bucks to verify your account, but if you want to do it for free on Craigslist and Zillow, you're probably going to be fine there. There's like Homes.com, Realtor.com, which a lot of times you must be professional to get on those. In today's market you will have plenty of leads with Zillow and Craigslist, so I think that's fine for now.
Bob Preston: 11:45 So let's talk about Realtor.com and, we put all our properties on the MLS and we will cooperate with other brokers. So Realtor.com and MLS are two channels that would not be available to the average homeowner who's going to list a property, right? Unless they contracted some sort of listing service.
Dave Borden: 12:03 That's correct. Those are great platforms because realtors, especially in your market. In expensive markets where there's a nice a leasing fee to be shared, you're going to get some broker cooperation and some of the smaller markets or if people aren't offering a co-op, you're not going to get a lot of real estate agent cooperation. Again, this is sort of those things where when the market's on fire like it is now, you're probably going to be okay. But I've been doing this, through my family, since the late eighties. I've seen five extremely hot markets and I've seen three or four dead markets with 15, 20 percent vacancy. So, the process that you put in place during a hot market is going to have to be a little bit different than when it's a slow market and I feel like we're coming back into a slower market here over the next 10 or 15, you know, 10 or 15 years. It's been spent 10 or 15 years of robust rental market and it's probably about to swing the other way because what you see during those times, is every building going up, at least out here in Colorado is an apartment complex and those have got to get filled up by somebody. So, they're going to overfill the market, like they always do and then their vacancy rates are going to creep back up and they may get high and challenging. So, the strategy with a great market right now is a lot different than when the market's slow.
Bob Preston: 13:25 For sure. I mean our goal when we take on a new property or a new client is to get a tenant in there as quickly as possible. Even if that means cooperating with another broker and sharing that initial leasing fee. We do it all the time. I would say probably 35 percent of our rentals are with another broker involved and we find that some property management companies won't do that, right? They want it all to themselves. They don't even list on the MLS and we just find that to be, you know, a silly strategy because again, this is in the owner's best interest to get somebody in there as quickly as possible.
Dave Borden: 13:54 That's correct. That's your main job. And the major caveat is with a great tenant. In today's market, there should be nothing but great tenants in your properties.
Bob Preston: 14:05 Okay. Let's talk about photos and videos. So, we get this a lot, you know, we take professional photos and we typically do a walkthrough video and we produce it and all that kind of stuff. How important truly are the photos and the video in a property listing, in your opinion?
Dave Borden: 14:19 Well, if you want people to contact you, they're everything. I don't think you have to go crazy. I don't think you need 150 photos, but I think you should accurately represent the property with however many photos that takes. The sweet spot is probably 15 to 30. Y
Bob Preston: 14:35 You hit a saturation point, right? The people are going to stop looking at the photos and they're going to move on or they want to get to the photo of the pool, but you've got too many pictures of the kitchen there before that.
Dave Borden: 14:45 You want to do your best to accurately represent the property. Show the outside, give a good flavor of the neighborhood because that is important to a lot of people. I mean, one of the most frustrating things for property managers, realtors, whoever, is you show up at a house that looked amazing online and then it's not really in the neighborhood that they anticipated, and they don't even go inside to look at it. They’re like, no, this isn't going to work. And then you've wasted a bunch of time and that's going to happen a lot with amateur landlord. So, do a great job of representing the property through 15 to 20, 25 photos. A video is really, good to show that kind of stuff. Especially the exterior of the house. If you can go around and show the neighborhood, you can show the other houses that are around you and the interior as well. With today's cell phones it takes five minutes, five or six minutes to walk through the house and explain some of the highlights and put it up. I think it's a great strategy and it's going to weed out a lot of those, you know, we talked about getting 50 or 100 phone calls or more for a good well-priced property. You can weed out a lot of those people if you do a really good job of representing the property before they ever contact you.
Bob Preston: 16:00 What about the written details? I mean, I've seen some listings that are just kind of bulleted, maybe five or six bullet points and it's kind of like, come on you can tell me more than that? And then there's some that are almost so verbose that it's just ridiculous. What the sweet spot there in your opinion?
Dave Borden: 16:15 Well, again, my strategy is, I want to accurately depict the property. Some people are better authors than others. So, if you're not great at it, have somebody else do it. Have one of your friends take a stab at it, but it's important to give as much information as necessary for the prospect to decide, an educated decision on whether to contact you. So, like I said, the old school realtors used to be like put three pieces of information and a photo and take as many phone calls as you possibly can, but that's an enormous waste of everyone's time. Nowadays the strategy and the Internet have made it like, I want to know what I'm getting into before I call you and then when I call you, on those people that call you that actually want to look at it, if you've done a good job with your descriptions, photos, video, they're very serious. If the house looks pretty much like what you showed them and describe to them, they're probably going to put in an application. And as far as description goes, for property managers, it's a little bit different because I like to see you guys put as much information out there as possible because it helps with your SEO. It helps with time onsite usage data. You don't want to overwhelm people, but they will read that. If someone is seriously considering moving into a property, they will watch the entire video, they will read the entire description, they will click on every photo and for property managers, that's a ton of time onsite that you can take advantage of, which helps with your SEO. For the person who puts it up on Zillow or Craigslist, you still need to do a very good job. In a good market, you're going to get overwhelmed by contacts. So, if you can say, you know, no pets, whatever disqualifiers that you have, make sure you put it out there because then they then they won't contact you and waste your time. So just be as thorough as you possibly can to accurately depict the property.
Bob Preston: 18:06 Perfect. What about social media? We hear a lot about social media. Is that a true avenue for getting a property rented? What's your opinion on that?
Dave Borden: 18:14 You know, it's possible and there's a different strategy for property managers. I always recommend that you take a listing and put it on your business Facebook page, business Twitter account, because you don't want to overwhelm your friends with properties.
Bob Preston: 18:28 Yes, we do that (post to our business Social Media pages).
Dave Borden: 18:30 If you're an individual owner with one property or two even, and you're only going to do it once or twice a year, it's okay to say, hey, my house is available. If you know anyone that wants to move in, let me know. And that's great because you make it a friend that moves in and you may get a friend of a friend or somebody, and y may get it rented that way. It's possible. I think it's a useful strategy. All it takes is one person to fill a rental vacancy and I think it's a worthwhile strategy because it takes about five seconds to do it. So, you know, if you want to put a post out that says I've got my house available, here's where it is, here's what it looks like, and if you know someone who wants to run it, let me know. And that's perfectly acceptable.
Bob Preston: 19:12 Yeah. It's like you said, it's easy. It's another way. It's another avenue. We've had people walk into a showing and say, hey, my friend forwarded me your post on Facebook. And then, we're like, oh, okay. Or, your friend sent me your link through Facebook.
Dave Borden: 19:29 For property managers, it is SEO and Social Media. It's the best thing you have, is your listings to increase all the indicators that helped with the search algorithm as part of your business. So, you must do it as a property manager.
Bob Preston: 19:47 Well, let's get into some of the downsides here. What are the pitfalls? If somebody's getting ready to perhaps rent their own property or decide, gosh, I should really go with a property manager, what are some of the pitfalls they should be aware of and why might that be a good reason to go with a property manager instead of doing it themselves? I know the list could be long here.
Dave Borden: 20:06 There's a thousand pitfalls as you know, and I think what's frustrating to a lot of property managers, is people think that you fill their house with the tenant and that's the end of your job. That is so far from the truth and such a small percentage of what you do. So again, the process starts with finding a good tenant. If you have 30 or 40 people looking at a property, then you must sort through which one of those you think is the best fit. You must run their credit. You must collect the money. If you're an individual owner, you must find a lease, which we can get a state approval and get one from a friend. Whatever. You must sign the lease. You must collect the money. You must hold the security deposit. Then when they move in, you must do maintenance, you must make sure that they have renter’s insurance. You must make sure that you have a landlord policy. My estimation is that to manage a property correctly, the way a professional does, now professionals have systems in place to do all this stuff right away and some professionals are better than others. You know that. If you're an individual owner, if you want to do a good job getting your property ready to rent, I estimate it takes between 50 and 100 hours of your time. And whatever your time is worth, call it $50. That's $5,000 of your time to get your property ready to go?
Bob Preston: 21:27 Probably costs less than that for them to hire us for the whole year.
Dave Borden: 21:29 Yeah. To me, with my big fat paycheck, that's not worth my time. So, I'm going to search the Internet, I'm going to find someone that has a great reputation as a property manager. There's three reasons people don't hire a property manager. They think it's too expensive. They've had a bad experience with another property manager.
Bob Preston: 21:48 We hear that a lot about our competition.
Dave Borden: 21:50 Or they're just unaware of the industry. They don't know that. In the states, in the USA, 80 percent of people manage their real property. Over half of the entire rental market, including apartment complexes, fifty-six percent is managed by the guy that owns it. So, I think the biggest thing is you're just unaware of the industry. If there's someone out there that can do all this for you and if you look at the actual cost, not only in maintenance and time and usually property managers are going to have discounted maintenance. They're going to have a lot of things in place because of the volume that they do. That's going to make them cheaper than doing it yourself.
Bob Preston: 22:25 I tell you, I think some of the clients I speak with aren't aware of the tools that are available to property managers today that allow us to make that process super-efficient. Everything from, you know, having her own photographer on call ready to hit the street, right in their car to get the photos taken, to processing the photos, to distributing the listing out all these different websites, our social media processes and all these things we can do quickly.
Dave Borden: 22:50 I'm going to interrupt you right there. You just mentioned about 20 hours of work. Taking photos, putting it online, then dealing with the inbound leads and showings. Now you're at 30 hours and you don't even have a tenant yet. If you're making 30 bucks an hour, there’s $600 right there.
Bob Preston: 23:08 And you might not even be listed yet. You're still doing it.
Dave Borden: 23:11 You don't have your tenant yet. Then when you find someone you like, you've got to go find somewhere to screen them. You've got to write a lease, you've got to sign it. You got to meet them there and move them in. Now you're at 40 hours. Then you got to collect the rent, first month and if they have a couple of maintenance issues, you've got to call someone in, coordinate that and get it done. Now you're at 50 hours. I just can't imagine any anybody that's in this situation, to own a rental property today, which means you're probably have some other career that pays you a decent wage, that it would be worth your time to do all those things yourself. I can't imagine that.
Bob Preston: 23:48 Okay. That's good input to our listeners. What about fair housing laws? This is something that everybody must be aware of. My guess is the average homeowner and prospective client of ours is not aware of this. In fact, some of the things we've had some perspective clients say to us is just astonishing. Stuff that we could never put it in an ad. Are there certain things, certain phrases that people should be aware of that are no-no’s and should people really be afraid of this kind of stuff?
Dave Borden: 24:17 Absolutely. The Fair Housing laws are put in place for protected classes, minorities, families, disabilities. It's very specific to what's protected. If in your advertising, whether you're a professional or not, you violate any of those laws, you are subject to fair housing fines which are in the tens of thousands of dollars. There have been companies put out of business because of this. It seems some of it is very, very minor. Someone might say, hey, this is perfect for a family. Or sorry, we don't allow kids. Those seem minor, but those are Fair Housing violations. Trust me, in today's world, there are people out there hunting for reasons to sue the big bad landlord. Whether they're a company or an individual or whatever the case might be. Fair Housing laws must be followed, and it can be very subtle when you violate them. You don't plan to, you don't mean to, but if you do, it doesn't matter what your intent was. The fact is you did it.
Bob Preston: 25:20 Again it could be, not in the ad or the written word, it could be just something that just slips out, but you say when you're showing somebody that property as well.
Dave Borden: 25:28 Well, one of the big things, Fair Housing is a law. It applies to everybody without any extenuating circumstances. And it is good that that's in place because it does protect minorities and ADA and family status and that's why it's there. However, it eliminates the ability to be empathetic. So, if you have a single mother who's got a bad credit score, who is trying to get their life back together and you decide, okay, I'm going to let her 550 credit score slide and I'm going to work with her, but you turned down a 550 credit score from another family or minority. Then you've just committed to fair housing violation because you did not apply the same standard to each group. So, something subtle like that where you're trying to be nice can come back to bite you as well.
Bob Preston: 26:21 Absolutely. I told you we would try to wrap this up in 20 to 30 minutes. I think we're right about there. So what else, Dave, are there any other aspects specific to marketing properties or marketing a home that you think that the audience should be aware of?
Dave Borden: 26:39 I would just reiterate that this is a great market, so I'll caveat there and you're probably going to be able to rent your house by yourself, but that doesn't mean you're going to do it well. So, if you're going to do the best job, get the house cleaned up, get the carpets cleaned, get it painted, make it smell good, get the yard in shape. Because remember, you are competing with other properties and the better job you do preparing your property to rent it, the faster it will rent at the highest price, which will maximize your investment. Do a good job of photographing it, market it wisely, and choose a great tenant. You do not want to go through an eviction. If you get into the eviction process, you will sell that property after you get them out of there, I promise you. You will be done with landlording. So, remember when you pick a tenant, that's your buddy, that's your best friend, partner in your business for the next 12 to 36 to 48 months. So, choose wisely because they will ruin your life if you do not pick them wisely.
Bob Preston: 27:43 That's right. Hey, great advice and thank you so much for joining the podcast, Dave. It was great information that I'm sure our listeners can utilize and considering how to market if renting their home or you know, whether they should go and hire a property manager like North County Property Group. We would love to have you if you're thinking about us, hiring our services. Thank you so much to Dave. That concludes today's episode. Thank you all for joining the Property Management Brainstorm podcast. Until next time, we will be in the field working hard for our clients to maximize their property value and income and maintain top notch tenant relations and thanks again, Dave. Great having you.
Dave Borden: 28:19 Hey, thanks for having me. Bob.