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Looking to Fill a Rental Vacancy? Here's Where Renters' Heads Are at Right Now

May 19, 2020 by Aly J. Yale

If you're a property manager or landlord, staying on top of renter trends is critical -- at least if you want your units full and your rents paid on time. It's especially important during the current pandemic, when layoffs are rampant and financial hardship is the norm.

Are renters still looking for properties? Are they willing to go on physical tours? What challenges are they facing as they traverse the market?

Understanding these nuances can help you better fill those vacancies and prevent unpaid (and late) rents as we all work to weather the COVID-19 storm.

The survey says...

Rental search platform Zumper recently surveyed its users to gauge the renter mindset, and the results might surprise you. Despite the health risks that might come with moving and finding a new property, a whopping 85% of Zumper's users are still actively searching for a rental.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Trends back that up, too. Though searches for phrases like "apartments for rent" bottomed out in mid-March, they recovered quite a bit in April. In fact, they're actually nearing the levels seen last spring.

Renters are likely looking for more affordable properties than they were back then, though. According to the survey, 35% of Zumper's users have either lost their job or experienced a pay cut due to the pandemic while another 13% have seen their co-renter financially impacted by the health crisis.

Other search parameters are changing, too. Over a third of on-the-market renters are looking for virtual tours, and about 20% have expanded their search radius to find the right property. This may be due to increasing work-from-home arrangements, making morning commutes less of a concern.

"The main way that search criteria has been affected post-pandemic was that renters are looking for more virtual tours," Zumper's Crystal Chen said. "Renters are also reducing their budgets, due to financial strain, and expanding their search radius to include neighborhoods or areas they may not have considered before."

Challenges ahead

Unsurprisingly, financial-related challenges abound for renters. Over 40% of Zumper's users said the affordability of available rentals was an issue, while 24% said uncertain income posed a challenge.

Landlords are also causing problems. More than half of renters say they're not hearing back from property managers when they reach out, and according to 50%, they're not able to physically see the units they're interested in either.

This makes thorough and accurate listings more important than ever. According to the survey, renters say image quality is the most important factor when considering a listing in today's market, followed by a list of amenities, an accurate property description, floor plans, and even a video of the unit.

The bottom line

If you're actively looking for new tenants but are hesitant about showings or meeting applicants in person, upping your listing game is critical. Think about using tools like Matterport to create interactive floor plans, hire a videographer to make a property video or walkthrough, and be extra thorough about describing the unit as well as its amenities.

And if you do meet with tenants or give physical tours, make sure to follow these sanitizing tips in your unit.

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Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Aly Yale has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (C shares). The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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