While searching unique perspectives on move-ins and move-outs in the property management world, I kept attempting to resort to a metaphor.  Then I came across the origin of the word metaphor itself, which means “to carry” in Greek.  In the context of a typical metaphor, the “carrying” is referring to the sense of one word to a different word, but I figured there were so many ways to manipulate the idiom.

So after repeating “Moving tenants in and out of apartment complexes is like …” over and over in my head with no accurate figure of speech coming to mind.  I started thinking of all the ways that “carrying” is associated with moving.  Not only for the obvious reasons of moving boxes in and out, but in the mindset of a landlord, transferring and carrying out promises, papers and the term of the lease.

What every owner or property manager of an apartment building needs to do first is establish move-in and move-out procedures.  The only way to successfully move tenants in and out with the least amount of conflict is to enforce a set of procedures applicable to all.  Having concrete guidelines to address all that comes up when a unit turns will facilitate smooth transitions.  The move-out and move-in procedures will require checklists to ensure that the person overseeing the transition has a list to refer to when inspecting.

Move-Out

Let’s start with a typical move-out. When a tenant gives notice, utilize the amount of notice that is currently required in the market.  Twenty days is plenty of time to coordinate with them a pre-move-out inspection which will not only benefit them, but benefit you in the long run as well.  Come prepared with a “make-ready checklist.”  Schedule the necessary vendors (a carpet cleaner is almost always required.)  Are the drapes gross and dusty?  Do the current tenants want to/have time to clean them?  Have they offered to do the nitty-gritty cleaning and have you highlighted how clean it has to be?  If you thoroughly describe the condition that the apartment has to be in, it will ensure that nothing slips through the cracks upon move-out.  You don’t like having to clean more than you anticipated and do so in too short of an amount of time, just as much as past tenants despise receiving deposits back which are half of what they were expecting.

  • Conduct the move-out inspection WITH the tenant present.
  • Close respective utility accounts.
  • CHANGE THE LOCKS!  This is an important turnover task because no matter how friendly and moral driven a tenant may seem, they could have given a key to a friend over the years of their tenancy, so who knows who could have access to that given unit.
  • Ensure that the smoke detectors [and carbon monoxide detectors] are working and have battery life.
  • Lastly, spruce up the unit to prepare for walkthroughs.  The past tenants should have left it in immaculate condition, [good luck with that] but if there’s anything that catches your eye, take the time to make those small adjustments because they will make a difference in the eye of a prospective tenant.

Move-In

After you have conducted walkthroughs and found the tenant of your dreams with a check in their hand and a green “thumbs up” on their application, you are ready to perform the correct steps for moving in a tenant.

  • Schedule the move-in with them so that you accommodate their needs and show that you are available to welcome them into their new home.
  • On the day that they settle in, take care of everything to do with the lease.  Ensure that they have signed in all the necessary areas and have fully studied the terms and lease in its entirety.
  • During their move-in walkthrough, require that they complete their move-in inspection form so that you are not held liable for anything that they hadn’t caught after they have already moved in.
  • Once all of the above steps are complete, bring out those shiny keys that you are now able to confidently place in their hands.  The jingle you’ll hear will symbolize success ringing in both of your ears.

Ultimately, moving is a metaphor in and of itself.  A landlord is transferring and carrying out their promise to each tenant as they come and go.  The relationships that you build with your residents begin with their experience upon move-in and are carried out when it comes time for them to leave.

Tenants will have a lasting impression on their living experience with a certain company or individual so being overly thorough throughout each tenancy life cycle can only be a benefit.  To quote a current relevant movie and book, as a landlord you might occasionally feel discourage as Gatsby did at the end of his novel:  “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Follow these steps on moving tenants in and out of your units and turnovers will become smooth as if you are floating with the current rather than against it.

Lauren Ginder is with Pacific Crest Property Management.  Reprinted with permission of the Rental Housing Association, UPDATE.

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