It's easy to make money as a landlord, right? You just sit back and watch those rent checks roll in. Wrong! For many, it's a full-time job that includes collecting rent on time, finding reliable tenants, and making sure maintenance is done quickly.
Of the 43 million rental units in the U.S., 80% are owned by "small-asset" landlords—part-time landlords with a rental property or two who also have day jobs, according to Lucas Hall of Landlordology, a website with tools and resources for independent landlords.
Fortunately, a slew of websites, software, and other types of technology have made life as a property manager way more, well, manageable. Here are eight tech innovations making it a whole heck of a lot easier to be a landlord.
1. Online applications and background checks
Instead of requiring potential tenants to show up and hand you a paper application, there are many apps and types of software that help landlords accept online applications and do credit checks and background screening.
Rent Application is free for landlords, and charges applicants $10 to $20 for credit or background checks.
Package landlord solutions like Cozy (free for landlords, $25 to $40 for credit checks), Rentalutions (up to $50 a month), and Rentalfy ($9 to $119 a month) all include online applications and background checks, as well as assistance listing and marketing the rental unit.
2. Digital signature collection
Software like dotloop (up to $30 a month) and DocuSign ($10 to $40 a month) let landlords send leases and other agreements that need a digital signature. They can also store the signed documents for reference later. If you're managing multiple properties, this lets you keep all your important documents in one place, and cuts down on the amount of schlepping you're doing to get signed leases and lease renewals.
3. Digital rent collection
Processing payments is one of the biggest issues facing landlords. Thankfully, digital rent collection allows tenants to pay with their computer or phone, direct from their bank account to the landlord's. Whether you're using a general payment app like Venmo or a landlord-specific app like RentPayment, eliminating the need to mail or drop a check makes paying rent easier for everyone.
According to Cozy (which also offers digital rent collection), on average 10% to 20% of tenants pay rent late, but Cozy's users get their rent late less than 1% of the time. Almost every package landlord solution offers this feature, including Rentalfy, Rentalutions, AppFolio (80 cents to $1.50 per property per month), and LeaseRunner ($3 per transaction).
4. Online maintenance requests
If something breaks, tenants want it to be fixed quickly. And landlords have a responsibility to make sure their property is kept in good repair. Online maintenance requests let tenants contact their landlord about problems as they arise, including uploading pictures of what's going wrong. The landlord can then track the issue in the software, including storing maintenance receipts for tax purposes later. AppFolio, Rentalutions, and Rentalfy all offer online maintenance requests.
For property managers or landlords with lots of units, SMS Assist streamlines the maintenance process, including offering a network of affiliate contractors who can do the necessary work on the property.
5. Financial apps and document storage
Financial apps like Property Buddy ($9 to $170) are designed specifically with landlords and property managers in mind. They keep track of when rent is due and when a lease is up; keep track of receipts; prepare tax info; and store signed documents, inspections, and certificates.
Property Buddy allows you to keep separate profiles for each property, and get reporting and a financial overview of all of your real estate investments. It's kind of a combination of accounting software and document storage, optimized for landlords.
6. Online inspection apps
For landlords managing multiple properties, online inspection apps like Z Inspector (up to $12 a month) and HappyCo ($99-plus a month) keep track of move-in and move-out inspections. They store photos, have preloaded checklists, and, if you're using contractors to do the inspection instead of doing it yourself, allow your contractors to upload the paperwork from their phones.
7. Smart smoke/carbon monoxide detectors
Landlords are required to provide working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in their rental properties. Smart detectors like Nest Protect will send push notifications if there's a smoke or carbon monoxide alert, so you can check up on your tenants and be sure everything's OK. Or, you can set it up to connect to your tenants' phones, so they can feel extra-safe and be alerted immediately if there's a problem. Nest Protect also checks its own batteries and alerts you if it needs anything.
Roost smart battery ($35) offers a cheaper retrofit to existing smoke or CO detectors. It's a battery that lasts five years and sends notifications to your phone if it detects smoke or carbon monoxide, or if it's running low.
8. Smart thermostats
If you pay for your tenants' heat or electricity, installing a smart thermostatlike Nest ($170 to $250) can save you money by helping tenants be more energy-efficient. The Nest "learns" their heating and cooling patterns and turns temperatures up or down during the day to save energy while providing a comfortable environment. It's also a cool upgrade for them: They can control their temperature remotely and connect to other Nest devices if they have them.
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