Over the years I have seen many property owners panic over their vacancies. Many owners quickly lose the ability to make good decisions and look for the easiest way to stop the bleeding. They also do not want to lower the rent, that means they made a mistake in pricing the property, or that it will be tougher to pay the bills into the future. No one wants to admit to the first, and owners don't want cash flow problems.
The knee jerk response is to drop their guard and take the first application they are lucky enough to get. This is a huge mistake.
In my opinion, a standard approach should be followed each time a vacancy occurs. This will go a long way to preventing panic and fostering patience. First, make sure the property and yard is renovated. Paint what needs painting, fix what is broken, and clean, clean, clean. This will automatically attract a better clientele. Second, find out what the market rent should be by checking around the area for competing rentals. You must know what a prospective tenant knows. Price your house to give a good deal, not to maximise your cash flow. Third, have some standards and stick to them. An example is to require that each applicant have income of at least three times the rent, 80% good credit, and verifiable rental references or home ownerhip for the last two years.
It is best to have these standards in writing and available to any applicants so they know up front what you are expecting. This will go a long way to deter potential applicants from applying if they do not meet your standards which will save you time. Many applicants will still want to tell you their special circumstances. You can politely tell them that they should apply and put their special circumstances in writing along with their application. Do not listen to their stories, which may lead you to make a bad decision.
The fourth key is to get your property seen and heard. This might include signage at the property, print ads, and ads on mulitiple web sites. Many landlords and managers are dropping the print ads. That will depend on your market. You should be in mulitiple web sites because there is no way to tell how searchers will locate rentals. The more sites you are in, the more likely yours will be seen. Many are free so spend some time figuring that out.
Once you have taken these steps, you can let your system work. If the property does not rent within 7-10 days, consider a price adjustment. I suggest 3-5% reduction every two weeks.
Some vacancies get extended due to the time of year. In the greater Sacramento Region it is tougher from Thanksgiving to Christmas. But after Christmas, we make up for that lost time. So I refrain from going into panic mode during that time frame. I know that the market will get busy after the holidays so I will not do price adjustments until the market improves.
I define market rent as the rental rate that will get a property rented in 30 days to a qualified applicant. If your property is taking longer than that, it is most likely not fixed up properly, not advertised adequately, or overpriced. Have patience and don't go into panic mode!