Why can't I rent this apartment??
November 28, 2005 9:00 AM   Subscribe

Why can't I rent this apartment??

My wife and I bought a duplex in July (Washington Heights neighborhood of Milwaukee). I have been trying to rent out the 2 bedroom upper since then with no luck. This is our first house and landlord experience.
The apartment is approximately 750 sq ft., with hardwood floors, front and back porches, plenty of storage, an alarm system, stove and refridgerator included. We are extremely pet friendly, the only requirement is a dog must get along with our female german shepherd. The drawbacks are no parking included (although there is plenty of on-street parking in the area (and we have offered to pay the $3 a month for the permit)) and no laundry or basement access (we have offered to install hookups in the apartment for an apartment sized laundry machine).
The apartment itself is very clean and nice, plenty spacious for a single person or couple, and doable for 2 roommates as well.
We have had dozens of people through, and have accepted a handful of applications to no response. We originally started the rent at $650, then reduced to $595, and we have been offering $500 and/or first month free to good candidates.
Lowering the rent further would be difficult for us, although no rent at all is extremely difficult - we can't afford the house without rental income. The apartment is a steal at $500, I have a lot of rental experience in Milwaukee. We simply can't offer parking or laundry.
I have advertised in the local paper (not a single response for $40), the local free paper (1 or 2 responses), local universities (a few), local websites (a few) and Craigslist (a lot). We also have a large sign in the front.
Any suggestions?
posted by bradn to Work & Money (31 answers total)
(and we have offered to pay the $3 a month for the permit)

Could it be that you're trying to hard? Nobody likes (or trusts) a hard sell. If they want to park, let them pay for themselves.
posted by NekulturnY at 9:04 AM on November 28, 2005

The rent may actually be too cheap. Some might be put off by a nice apartment going for so little and conclude that it's too good to be true. You might consider raising the rent and then knocking off a month of rent free or the like. This is might be a better incentive than just lowering the rent by a large percentage.
posted by nixerman at 9:04 AM on November 28, 2005

Though I own my home now my husband and I rented while in school, and one thought about why you're not getting responses is that people might not want to live in a situation with the landlord on site. That's not exactly a helpful response in that there's not much you can do to change it, but maybe gives some perspective as to why people aren't tempted by a steal of an apartment.

It would make me a bit wary--you never know whether the landlord would be pretty hands off, or whether he or she would be watching everything you did and trying to nitpick your behavior. Not saying you'd be in the latter group, but is there any way you can make it clear that you'd be good people to live near?
posted by handful of rain at 9:08 AM on November 28, 2005

You might want to talk to a realtor in your area. They might be able to show your apartment for a fee, or they at least might have some tips for you.

How do the tenants access the apartment? Do they have their own entrance?

Where is your dog kept? I would be extremely nervous about renting an apartment in a building where a large german shepherd has the run of the backyard.

What is the current state of the apartment? Is it empty? Is it spotless? Try baking bread / cookies in the oven before you show it.

I would be very careful about lowering the rent too much. If the apartment too cheap then your prospective tenants may start thinking that there's something wrong with it.
posted by bshort at 9:09 AM on November 28, 2005

Response by poster: No hard sell here, I have been extremely no pressure. I am not a salesman by any stretch. I have been honest and tried to seem like a cool landlord.

I haven't thought of actually raising the rent, but we have started advertising it as a 1 or 1.5 BDR for $595, hoping to catch single people looking for a slightly nicer place.
posted by bradn at 9:13 AM on November 28, 2005

For me, laundry is the killer app. I'll live in apartment instead of a suite in a house if there is no access to a washer and dryer in the suite. In an apartment building I have to truck the clothes down the hall to the laundry room, for a suite I'm not willing to pack up all my clothes into a car and drive to a laundromat.

Further, if I have to do so, that requires that I have a vehicle. You're advertising cheap enough rent that people looking in that bracket aren't necessarily car drivers.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:14 AM on November 28, 2005

Rather then lowering the rent too much, you should advertize it as $650 or best offer. That way people will know that they can negotiate with you if they want, but that you're not setting the bar too low.

Hit 'em with $650, and offer to lower the price if they think it's too much.

Maybe try some other sales techniques when you have people checking the place out.
posted by delmoi at 9:14 AM on November 28, 2005

Response by poster: The apartment is empty and spotless, has a private entrance through the rear fenced in yard.
The dog is very people friendly, and I want to rent to someone who likes dogs, it says that in the ad.
I personally also don't want to rent to a tenant that has a problem with living above me. We are pretty cool people.
posted by bradn at 9:16 AM on November 28, 2005

Since you're willing to install laundry hookups, couldn't you install a small stacked washer-dryer? That might help make the place more desireable, though you'd be responsible for the maintenance of it.

Also, what sort of terms are in the lease? That is, are any utilities included, is it a six-month or a year lease, that sort of thing? What amenities are you offering to make up for the lack of parking and laundry?
posted by Gator at 9:19 AM on November 28, 2005

You might re-visit your advertising.
I find that when renting apartments, where you advertise makes all the difference. If you put an ad in a crappy paper, you will often get lots of calls from people who are just shopping around, or are not committed. On the other hand, when I put an ad in the more expensive (read upscale) local paper, it costs me twice as much, and I get one quarter the calls, but those people are usually the ones that follow through.
I have no idea what the Newspaper situation is like in Milwaukee, but it might be worth your time to look at where you are advertising again.
posted by TheFeatheredMullet at 9:20 AM on November 28, 2005

I'd have thought that allowing a dog would be a huge plus, what about advertising to a more dog oriented community?
posted by ceri richard at 9:20 AM on November 28, 2005

My understanding is that Milwaukee has a very high number of vacant apartments right now. Do you know other people that are renting apartments in Washington Heights and whether they are having troubles or not?

I don't think parking or laundry is the problem per se (at least from my persepective), I've never turned down an apartment for those reasons (especially in Milwaukee).
posted by drezdn at 9:21 AM on November 28, 2005

We are in a similar situation, though the apartment we rent out is downstairs from us. We don't have pets, though all of our tenants have had dogs and sometimes cats too.

I agree that setting the bar too low will prevent the tenants you *want* from considering the place.

Things I would do to try and get the place rented:

- put the rent back up to $650. Don't put "best offer", "negotiable" in the ad text; do offer first month free or similar if you think it'll help.
- install those hookups. Install a washer/dryer combo (you can even get two-in-one washer/dryer machines. Second-hand is fine for a rental, but not *too* second-hand
- Take photos at nice times of day and with a wide-angle lens and post them in your Craigslist ad.
- Call it a "garden apartment", "pets welcome". Dog owners will absolutely understand the requirement that their dog gets along with yours.
- Network. Tell your friends, colleagues, people you meet in the supermarket. I don't mean "go paper the town with leaflets", but mention it idly in casual conversation. Get the word out.

It's a hard time having an empty apartment. To be fair, our experience is in Oakland, which is a different situation to Milwaulkee, but some of the basics are the same, I'm sure.

Good luck.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 9:28 AM on November 28, 2005

Response by poster: My understanding is that Milwaukee has a very high number of vacant apartments right now. Do you know other people that are renting apartments in Washington Heights and whether they are having troubles or not?

Yes there are 3 places for rent on our block, one has been for rent as long as ours. They are asking $650, it's a lower and includes laundry.
posted by bradn at 9:30 AM on November 28, 2005

Are there any cosmetic blemishes, any broken cabinets, things of that nature that might be red flags to people?

I agree with the "do the washer/dryer hookup now" camp, too... it's work to have it done and people don't want to just take you at your word... Put your money where your mouth is...

Lastly - I'll tell my friend, who lives in Milwaukee, about your place. Could you send me your craigslist ad link so I can send it to him?
posted by twiggy at 9:34 AM on November 28, 2005

Yes there are 3 places for rent on our block, one has been for rent as long as ours. They are asking $650, it's a lower and includes laundry.

Ah, well, there's the problem: its a renter's market. This means that you're going to have to make the apartment more competitive than the others. I agreee with those who have suggested raising the rent back up, in order to signal the quality of the place, and 5MeoCMP's suggestions regarding advertising, etc.

Also, you might try asking potential renters what they are looking for and what will most influence their decision. And try cruising the Craigslist "apartment wanted" ads, not only for prospective renters, but also to see what people are looking for (example of someone looking for an upper floor in a duplex here).
posted by googly at 9:52 AM on November 28, 2005

The other suggestions I would have would be to tell everyone you know that you're looking for a tenant, your friends might know someone who's looking. The second suggestion would be to try to list it with UWM and Marquette. Most UWM students probably wouldn't be as interested in an apartment in Washington Heights but Marquette students might.

If you're OK with renting to anyone that can afford it, you could try the livejournal group cityofmilwaukee. A lot of people read it, though it will probably mainly draw twenty-somethings.

I think the Milwaukee Craigslist is under utilized, though I found my last apartment through it.
posted by drezdn at 9:55 AM on November 28, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice.

No red flags that I know of. Let's put it this way, if I was looking for an apartment in the area, I would have jumped on it.
I would love to install hookups and a laundry machine, but like I said, we can't afford our house at the moment so there is no money. Once I get rent coming in, no problem. I think the price is right even without laundry.
posted by bradn at 9:55 AM on November 28, 2005

You might also want to try putting fliers up in the area coffee shops (there should be a few on North Ave.).
posted by drezdn at 9:56 AM on November 28, 2005

I would love to install hookups and a laundry machine, but...there is no money. Once I get rent coming in, no problem.

In that case, I'd suggest adding a paragraph to the lease promising that you will, in fact, install a washer-dryer by such-and-such date. Point that clause out to any prospective tenants. If it's stipulated in the lease, they know you're bound to do it.

Speaking of the lease, I asked in my last post about the terms and amenities included in it. Are you offering to pay any utilities, to go month-t0-month after a certain date, anything like that to balance out the lack of parking, lack of laundry, landlord presence?
posted by Gator at 10:15 AM on November 28, 2005

One rule about using Craigslist - vary the wording but repeat every couple of days. Like ask.mefi, once it's scrolled off the first page, lots of people are going to miss it.

Second, if you're going to go through Universities...still to calling the space "Grad student". Also, add in your broadband internet, wireless, if you have it.
posted by filmgeek at 10:30 AM on November 28, 2005

What about free wireless internet? I just helped my brother move into an apartment that is otherwise unremarkable, but the free internet lured him. He has no landline or cable and thought he had no options for home internet.

It might help you stand out. And I second (or third, or fourth) the laundry hookups. I would NEVER consider a place without laundry connections.
posted by Sheppagus at 10:32 AM on November 28, 2005

Upper duplexes are notorious for being a bitch on hot summers if you have no AC. Also, paying the heat would take a chunk out of your income but it will be attractive to prospective renters. Consider adding AC if you don't have it, and offer to pay the heat. Also, first month's free rent is a great way to sell a place. My girlfriend and I could not have afforded any of the places we've lived if not for this, because we couldn't afford essentially three months rent up front (first, last, deposit). Two, however, was very doable.
posted by baphomet at 10:39 AM on November 28, 2005

I second the free wireless and the laundry hookup - as well as at least one, maybe more utilities. I snapped up the apartment I have now partially because it has a washer and dryer right in the kitchen - it sounds like a small thing, but I don't think I could go back to coin-op or offsite laundry now that I've had the unbelievable joy of doing my laundry at any time I wish, for 'free'. Putting in the lease that you'll install within the first two months, say, should work.

My landlord pays for the water and gas (which means heating and hot water! yay!), and I pay electric and cable internet - which can be nearly $200 in the summer, when I have to run the A/C (third floor apt). I suspect if there were even more goodies my rent covered, someone else would've snapped the place up before I got here.

I agree about raising the price a little - too low, and people will get suspicious, even in a renter's market. First month free is a pretty sweet draw.
posted by kalimac at 11:00 AM on November 28, 2005

one thought about why you're not getting responses is that people might not want to live in a situation with the landlord on site.

Personally, I always preferred an accessible landlord. When we rented half a duplex and the landlady lived in back, it was an ideal situation. I even did odd jobs for her (sometimes for a fee, sometimes for free).
posted by Doohickie at 11:08 AM on November 28, 2005

Install the laundry hookups. If you do a two-in-one, you don't need to vent out and you can use a standard electrical outlet -- you just need a plumber. Laundry is especially important to anyone without a car, especially if you live in a residential area. No one wants to take their laundry on the bus. Also, time spent at the laundromat is precious -- students want to study or party, not do laundry. Young employees may need to work extended hours or irregular hours, missing the chance to go to the laundromat.

See if your local pet store will let you advertise your apartment. Put the word out to dog walkers and any dog owners' associations. You might also want to try contacting the local association of people raising puppies to be guide dogs. Guide dog raisers have to take the dogs out to do their business in the middle of the night, so many prefer not to live in a regular apartment building.

Advertise that a parking permit is included, instead of just telling people you'll pay the $3/mo.

Can you add free Internet and cable?
posted by acoutu at 11:23 AM on November 28, 2005

Response by poster: I will definitely add the free WiFi. That is something I hadn't thought of. It's a nice perk, it doesn't cost me anything extra, and as long as they don't use their internet connection as much as I do, I shouldn't notice it. As for cable, I don't even have it.
I will look into having laundry installed asap. I realize that is a big thing, but then again, I lived without it for a long time.
Thanks again for all the suggestions.
posted by bradn at 11:43 AM on November 28, 2005

Here's an idea that has worked very well for my boyfriend: target your advertising....put up signs on bulletin boards of the Med School. (particularly if you're close to a convenient bus-line.) He's had great Med School student/couples who stay two or more years, are quiet tenants and very reliable. Since the apartment isn't producing revenue for you right now, if you can afford it, put the hook-ups in and buy a stackable washer/dryer.
You don't want rock-bottom renters so keep your rent at a reasonable level.
If your renters have a dog or cat, you can do exchange pet-sitting when either of you want to go out of town.
Choose your tenants very carefully. Might take a month or two but in the long-run, you'll be much happier. Good luck!
posted by lois1950 at 2:30 PM on November 28, 2005

Free dryer In Milwaukee. If you keep your eyes on the free page you probably can find a washer too. There were two free washers but one sounded broken and the other was advertised as don't know if it works. You can also try calling places like Goodwill or a used appliance store. I got a really nice fridge for $225 at one.
posted by 6550 at 10:10 PM on November 28, 2005

One thing to add, don't oversell the pet thing, it may put some people off. Adverts can usually be read like this:
Absolutely no pets=>No pets
No pets=>Will allow pets but with a bunch of conditions
Pets welcome=>We already have pets and need someone to look after them
posted by Lanark at 1:22 PM on November 29, 2005

On the off chance that you come back to this thread, don't be discouraged if you don't rent the apartment until March. Apparently apartments are almost impossible to rent in the winter in Milwaukee (though I've made the mistake of moving in the winter 3 times now).
posted by drezdn at 10:28 PM on November 30, 2005

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