Managing a property and its tenants is time consuming and detail intensive. If not done well, it will expose you to a multitude of liabilities. It requires that you be available 24/7, live close to the property, take calls for maintenance, show vacancies, screen applicants and collect rent. You will need to find and meet with vendors and confirm that their work was done properly.
The laws in Los Angeles make income property ownership difficult as they are not in the property owner’s favor. California’s landlord-tenant law is very pro-tenant. Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Santa Monica have rent control laws that tilt the rules even further against property owners. A good professional manager has the expertise to work in the owner’s best interest under these constraints, thus leveling the playing field as much as possible.
You should meet with at least three management companies. You want to interview a principal of the company, preferably the responsible broker. Ask these questions at your interviews:
- How long have you been in the business and who is the licensed broker of the company?
California requires all property managers to be a licensed real estate broker. An agent’s license is not legally sufficient. You can check the status of a company’s license by going to the Department of Real Estate website. There, you can enter the name of a licensee or company. You should check how long the company has been licensed and if it and the responsible broker are in good standing.
- How many properties do you manage? What kinds of properties are they? Are you able to provide references?
A sure way of knowing that someone is experienced is to determine their level of success. In property management, that would be measured by the portfolio of properties and the satisfaction of the property owners. Also be sure that the manager is familiar with your type of property.
- Do you personally own income property?
You really want someone who knows firsthand the challenges of managing an income property; someone who knows what it’s like to deal with a middle-of-the-night emergency, troublesome tenants and managing a budget. Do you really want to entrust the care of your property to someone who doesn’t know firsthand what it is like to own income property?
- Do you charge a startup fee?
Many management companies charge a fee to start managing a property. You will need to take this into consideration in the pricing structure a manager proposes. You also need to ask yourself why they are charging such a fee. Are they not confident in their service and afraid you will fire them shortly after beginning management?
- May I review a copy of your management agreement?
You need to be sure you take the time to carefully review the agreement and understand all of its terms.
- Do you manage other properties in the area where mine is located?
You want someone who has ready access to your property in the event of an emergency. Some companies manage properties far away from their office and other properties they manage thus making trips to the property few and far between. What if there is an emergency at one of these properties that needs a timely visit?
- Do you review my existing rental agreements and are you able to upgrade these contracts at no additional cost?
In the absence of rent control, a manager can upgrade your existing leases by simply issuing a properly prepared Change of Terms of Tenancy notice. In these cases, the manager can effectively change the terms of the tenancy without the existing tenant’s approval if the notice is prepared properly.
- Do you have experience with rent control issues and housing department code enforcement concerns? And have you actually been to any inspections or hearings with these entities?
Some violations, if left unresolved, can result in criminal prosecution against the property owner. Hands-on experience with code enforcement concerns is imperative and should be handled by experienced management staff.
- How do you advertise vacancies? How long does it typically take for you to lease a vacancy?
- How does your tenant screening process work? What steps do you take to find well qualified, long-term tenants?
It starts with an aggressive marketing campaign (see the previous question). That exposes the property to the widest group of potential tenants, allowing us a better opportunity to find the right one.
We do a thorough background check, which includes a credit report with a FICO score, criminal record search, and unlawful detainer (eviction) search. We verify employment (and other forms of income used to qualify) and contact the most recent landlord to appraise the type of tenant the applicant will be.
- Does your company have a well designed website for my tenant’s convenience? Can you communicate with me by email in addition to telephone?
Using the latest technology is very important in today’s market. Over 80% of rentals are found online. And tenants want the convenience of paying rent and requesting repairs online. Our experience has been that most tenants—and property owners—prefer communicating by email. It gives a record of communication and helps avoid miscommunication.
- Can you (the property owner) participate in selecting the tenant?
If the person you are interviewing says yes do not hire them. A competent property manager will have a selection process. The new tenant will qualify based on the facts. Any requested information that goes beyond the criteria to determine the applicant’s ability to pay could be considered a fair housing violation and opens both the manager and you to legal liability. Such requests should be respectfully denied by the manager.
- Do you have staff members that speak Spanish?
If not, potential tenants will be lost. And it will be difficult to communicate with some existing tenants. Both of these will result in a higher vacancy factor, leading to less cash flow.
- Does your company offer other services such as maintenance and repair or brokerage?
Such services easily tie into property management and will ultimately increase the profit your property generates.
There are two keys to successful leasing: a proper rent amount and good exposure to the market. One without the other doesn’t work well. A rent survey should be conducted to determine the proper rent amount and the vacancy needs to be exposed to as many renters as possible.
Most renters find their vacancy online. Therefore it is important to get the vacancy information on as many sites as possible in an informative and attractive way. Many tenants drive around the area they want to rent so physical signage is important.
Cross-marketing is also effective. When a prospective tenant visits a management company’s website looking for information on a vacancy they learned about and find a list of many other vacancies, they may in fact find something that better suits them.
Many property owners think all management companies do the same thing and therefore choose a company based on price. But you get what you pay for. There is a range of service levels being offered. That low priced manager may save you a few bucks but you can be sure that the quality of service will be less too. Be sure to determine exactly what services are included.
We do not charge a startup fee. We generally offer full service management on a sliding scale, based on the number of units, starting at 5% of the income generated by the property and dropping as the unit count increases. We charge a flat fee for single-family-residences. Contact us for a firm quote.
Literally everything involved with the operation of your property. That includes rent collection and bill payment with proper accounting and monthly financial reports. We handle all communications with your tenants, even emergencies—we have an emergency response system for non-business hour issues. We manage the entire leasing process including getting your unit rent-ready, marketing and applicant screening.
When we start managing a property we take a look at historical operating data to see if utility usage is in line with the size of the property and the tenant profile. We do a thorough inspection looking for water or gas leaks. We check the exterior light timers to confirm that they are not on during the day. We recommend changing the light timers to photocells so that they are on the shortest time possible.
We have the handymen on our staff do as much of the repairs and maintenance as possible as they are much less expensive than an outside vendor. Besides, we are sure proper insurance is in place.
The cost of any non-wear-and-tear damage repaired in a tenant’s unit is charged back to the tenant. Another benefit of these charge backs is that it motivates the tenants to take better care of their unit.
Again, we start with a look at historical operating data. We check for below market rents, whether the laundry room is producing income appropriate for the size of the property and check for the appropriateness of several other potential profit centers.
We can get started almost immediately although we recommend starting management sometime in the middle of the month to make the transition easier on the tenants.
We will provide you with a short checklist of items we will need to effectively manage your property. But we only need a signed management agreement, proof of property insurance and funds to open a checking account to get started. We can get the rest of the items shortly thereafter.
Being a relatively small company, we offer excellent customer service and specifically tailor it to meet your needs. We keep regular business hours during which time our phones are always answered by one of our team members. We can also communicate by mail, email and fax. Our goal is to get back to you in no more than one business day from your inquiry if we weren’t able to help you right away.
You are hiring someone to manage an investment that is probably very important to your future. You need to be sure they are a good fit; that you get along on a professional level and that you like their style of communication. You should look to establish a longterm relationship with someone that you have confidence in and that makes you feel comfortable.
Touchstone Properties took over as our management provider this year and I have to say I am really impressed. Anytime I have had a question about online billing or a process the office has been great help. Our pool was down and they were on it! Our parking garage gate was broken for a couple days over the holiday weekend and is now working like a charm! I am grateful to have a company whose people are quick to respond via email/phone!
Touchstone Properties managed our two apartment buildings for over 5 years, and was instrumental not only in improving the vacancy rates but also increasing the net income. They guided us through the legalities of apartment ownership and helped us prepare the buildings for resale. Both buildings sold for over three times our purchase price and helped us retire comfortably. We would highly recommend Touchstone Properties to any owner looking for a professional and honest management firm.
I have nothing but great things to say about Touchstone Properties as a property owner. They were prompt in responding to any correspondence, worked diligently to list and market my property for rent, and did a great job managing the property once rented. Should I ever have another rental property in Los Angeles, I would certainly call Kevin and work with the Touchstone team again.
From a handwritten note sent by a tenant that had to move because of a new job:
Thank you for being such a fantastic, responsive and kind company.
As a resident of Los Angeles for over 2 years now and a tenant of a number of apartment, Touchstone Properties has by far exceeded any and all expectations I could ever have of a leasing company. They are quick to resolve and assist with all problems any tenant might have. If you are looking for a place to call home and are wanting to find the perfect leasing company to cater to any and all of your needs look no further! Touchstone Properties is where it’s at!
Touchstone Properties has been managing my property for almost 10 years. I am pleased with their professionalism both towards me and my tenants. Their automated systems make communication easy and efficient and the monthly financial statements give me a clear picture of how my investment is performing. They are a small company so I have come to know each staff member and, more importantly, they are all familiar with me, my expectations, and my building, including its strengths and challenges.
We have been very satisfied with Touchstone properties for the last nine years. The owner of the company has given us excellent advice for improvements and handled any problem we have encountered. They are so efficient and keep us “in the loop.” The office staff answers any questions we have and graciously provides any information we request. They are the “Best in the West.”
Touchstone has done a very good job. Not just in maintaining the property but keeping our good tenants happy. We have people who have stayed in their apartments for years and are satisfied with the quick responses from Touchstone when they had a problem. We know this because we’ve asked them when visiting the building.
Touchstone Properties manages the rental of my house. I am very pleased with the maintenance of the property. I live overseas, but this has not been a problem. Touchstone have been able to deal with any issues quickly and are excellent at responding to my questions. Owner and staff have all been very helpful and professional. I highly recommend their services.
When I moved in my house, you were the management company. I really really loved the way you ran the property. You had very good online availability, which was very convenient. Now that I am looking to move, I am considering your vacancies first. Thank you!
Good customer service – I’m a tenant at one of Touchstone’s building and am very pleased with their customer service. They want to make sure that the buildings are safe for the tenants; we had one family causing trouble and they were eventually evicted due to lease violations (in other buildings I’ve lived in, the managers just keep the bums around b/c they don’t want to lose the rental income).
When it comes to maintenance issues, Touchstone return calls promptly and follows up to ensure that everything has been taken care of to my satisfaction. Thank you.
Touchstone Properties managed our 4-plex rental property for about a year. We’ve been extraordinarily pleased with their services. Their staff have been nice to us, well mannered and punctual. The cost of their services was reasonable and met our expectations.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get the apartment I wanted because I have a small dog. Having said that, when I e-mailed TP about the apartment, Kelly responded immediately. We exchanged several e-mails (setting up an apartment viewing etc.). She…even refunded my application fee after I realized that I didn’t qualify due to my pet. After over a month of apartment scouting, I can easily say that Kelly is one of the best apartment management employees I’ve ever worked with. I was really happy to finally hear back in a timely manner. Other places take days and sometimes a week to respond.