Automated Rent Collection:
The most dramatic change I've made with regard to managing investment properties has been to automate the rent collection process. I can't stress enough how much time and energy this has saved me, not to mention the impact on my monthly cash-flow. I have not had a single late payment or excuse since implementing the system. The rent automatically comes out of the tenant's checking account on the 1st of the month and is deposited into mine by the 5th.
I've employed the services of Rentmatic to handle my rent collection. In addition to setting up the direct deposit, the company offers additional features like online applications, electronic leases and monthly rent rolls to help make the landlording process as streamlined as possible. I can't speak highly enough about the company and I would recommend them to anyone that is looking for an autonomous solution to collecting rent. Rentmatic charge less than $4/mth per unit.
My approach to marketing vacancies has always depended on the location of the property. Personally, I have never had any luck with putting ads in the Sunday paper. One of my properties is located in a college town and I've had success posting on the off-campus housing bulletin board. Many colleges have something similar and they are usually targeted towards students as well as faculty.
Working in the mortgage industry has allowed me to work with investors of different magnitudes. One of the most successful exclusively uses Rentclicks.com to market his vacancies. I have used them with success as well. They offer a free yard sign with a link to your online ad. The yard sign is where the magic is!
Regardless of the method I use to advertise, I always include a link back to Rentmatic's online application. If someone is interested in one of my properties, they simply fill out the online application. I get an e-mail with all of the pertinent information (employment, social security numbers, references, etc.) necessary to continue the qualification process.
My Golden Rule of landlording: "No tenant is better than a bad tenant". In my opinion, tenant selection is the most critical decision to make with your investment property and choosing the right tenant can literally make or break you. In addition to checking references, it is imperative to do a credit check on all potential candidates. Analyzing a credit report is the best indicator of someone's ability to make timely payments. Also, you will be made aware of any outstanding judgments or collections related to breaking a previous lease.
A great example of this system in action occurred two years ago while I was on vacation. I received an e-mail notifying me someone had completed an application on one of my vacancies. After pulling credit and checking references, I approved the tenant's application. He signed a digital version of my lease online as well as setup his checking account for the rent collection. The security deposit and first month's rent were transferred into my checking account, all without ever meeting the tenant face-to-face.
Regardless of how you decide to manage your properties, it's important to know the landlord/tenant laws for your area as they vary by state. Here's a link with specific landlord/tenant laws for all 50 states and Canada http://www.mrlandlord.com/html/frametop.html.
Lighter side of landlording: Warning, contains Will Ferrell and is rated PG-13!