How to get and keep tenants in smaller towns

My name is Sabine Slade and I live with my husband in Kawerau. I came to New Zealand 26 years ago from Berlin, Germany. We own a number of investment properties throughout the Bay of Plenty which I manage myself and a couple of years ago other investors started to approach me about their properties and I now manage investment properties for others as well. I find that being a Property Manager takes patience and the ability to deal with many different personality types, which is a challenge I thrive on.

I locate tenants through a mixture of advertising in the local papers and online via Trade Me.

Interested parties fill out an application form that includes a privacy waiver clause so that I can conduct full reference and credit checks. Sometimes searching for a new tenant can be an adventure, I have seen people give false details on the application form about their employment, credit rating or where they live. I often will have a browse on the internet as part of the checks for my clients. Social media sites can be helpful as well as the Tenancy Information New Zealand (T.I.N.Z) database.

From time to time smaller towns can have problems with unemployment and gang related issues, so every person who wants to move into a property I manage, has to fill out an application form, thus eliminating the chance that the well dressed, well-spoken and mannered working mother, gets the house and then has her gang affiliated partner moving in with her.

This may sound onerous, however there are usually fewer people looking to rent, than in larger towns and cities so a strict vetting process that may eliminate some candidates is much preferable than dealing with a bad tenant later on.

Given the size of the market I do not charge a letting fee, however I ask a full 4 week bond.

Once a tenant is found, the key word for retention is service. When I ask prospective tenants why they are moving, the response many times was that the landlord is “slack”. The tenants had problems such as a stove or power point not working, or a leaking roof, notified the Landlord and nothing happened.

I try to solve any issues within 24 hours either by organising tradespeople to visit and quote for the bigger jobs or we simply perform repairs ourselves if it is a smaller issue such as a dripping tap. This not only ensures a very positive tenant / landlord relationship but tenants will make more effort to keep the place well looked after. Saving money is good, but not at the expense of your tenants.

However quite often the tenants do not ring me with problems, so regular 3 monthly inspections are important. They keep me in contact with the tenant and also to keep up with any maintenance or repair issues.

I check the rents when they are due. If a payment is missed, I ring or visit the tenant letting them know that the rent was not paid and find out how they plan on catching up.

99% of the time they catch up when the next rent payment is due. If this does not happen I will give them a 14 day letter to remedy which is then followed by an application to the Tenancy Tribunal. In bigger markets property managers are stricter, however it can pay to show some flexibility to an otherwise very good tenant - at least for the first occurrence.

As a rental property owner it certainly helps if you have some sort of cash cushion.  More houses means more liabilities and you should be in the position to replace a large ticket item like hot water cylinder or wood burner / heat pump if anything goes wrong. We experienced it ourselves when we wanted to insulate one of our rentals and the company giving the quote found several leaking spots in the roof, which had to be fixed before they would install the insulation. It could not be repaired and we had to reroof the house at a cost of $12000 when we wanted to only spend $2500 on insulation.

Lastly I want to touch on maintenance. Often it can be tempting for an investors to let maintenance slide, however with a smaller buyer pool that has choice, properties in good condition will be vacant for shorter periods and attract better quality tenants who will stay longer. Because we are close to the properties and living in the market we serve, we can provide investors with accurate upcoming maintenance and improvements needed to bring in, and keep great tenants while at the same time making sure they don't overcapitalise.

Sabine Slade is a Property Manager based in Kawerau, she manages properties in Kawerau, Whakatane and Edgecumbe

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