The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Property Management Company in the Baltimore Metro Area
What Do Baltimore Property Management Companies Offer?
The first step in choosing the right property management company in the Baltimore Metro Area is to understand what they have to offer. While the exact list of services varies between businesses, you typically find the following options.
- Property Marketing: The company markets your available units through online and offline means. They may take photos of your rentals, put a For Rent sign in the front yard, place advertisements in local publications, and list the property on rental and local websites. The property manager answers emails, texts, and calls about the unit and processes applications.
- Property Showing: The property management company prepares the unit for the showing and goes with the potential tenant around the property. They answer any questions the person has, goes over the features and amenities of the unit, and learn more about the tenant to see if they would be a good fit for the rental.
- Tenant Screening: The property management company uses several screening methods to find quality tenants who are likely to renew their leases and leave the unit in the same condition that they found it. Background checks, credit checks, and talking with the potential tenant during a showing and in other communications give the property manager important insights on the person. They’re also careful to abide by all Fair Housing requirements to avoid discrimination.
- Move-in/Move-out Inspections: The property manager notes the condition of the unit at the beginning and end of leases and walks through with the tenant. These inspections are important to identify maintenance issues that need addressed before a new tenant moves in, and ones that are added to the apartment turnover process.
- Apartment Turnover: Property management companies minimize the downtime it takes to get an apartment ready after a tenant leaves by making sure that it’s cleaned and any damages are repaired before showing the unit.
- Administrative Tasks: Property rentals end up generating plenty of paperwork and requiring other administrative tasks. The management company takes care of all the documentation, accounting and other duties necessary to support the unit.
- Property Maintenance: The unit may have damage from a tenant’s stay, appliances breaking down, scuffed floors, or other issues that need to be addressed. The property management company coordinates with contractors to accomplish this work or handles it with their own employees.
- Tenant Support: Any tenant questions or concerns throughout their lease are directed to the property manager rather than the property owner.
- Payment Processing: The property management company can collect rent payments through checks and online payment processors, and transfer the money to the landlord’s account.
- Evictions: Hopefully you don’t have to deal with many evictions in your properties, but most landlords have a story or two to tell. Property managers can walk you through each step of the process or handle it with their own legal team.
The Benefits of Property Management Companies in the Baltimore Metro Area
When it comes down to it, most landlords are looking at their bottom lines when they’re considering a property management company. You might wonder how the business can maximize your rental profits, given that you need to pay them for services rendered. It comes down to a mixture of direct and indirect benefits that make it easy to see where the return on investment comes from.
Frees Up Your Time and Resources
How much value do you assign to your time? Many people get into real estate investment as a way to generate mostly passive income. It’s not very passive if you have to be on-site regularly and field phone calls and emails from tenants at all hours. The property manager gives you back your time and reduces your stress.
Sits in Between You and Your Tenants
Most tenants are good, but every landlord runs into some who are high-maintenance, contentious or otherwise disruptive. A property management company acts as the middle-man, which allows them to screen communications and requests. Only the items that need your direct attention get passed on to you.
Allows You to Take Advantage of Long-distance Opportunities
Do you have a lead on a great real estate investment opportunity but it’s too far away for you to quickly be on-site? A property management company acts as your trusted eyes and ears when you can’t be there, which allows you to continually expand the range of your property locations.
Handles Contractor Coordination
Finding, scheduling and managing contractors is often a complete headache. You have to call all over the place to get quotes for your project, head to the property to meet with and monitor the contractors, keep the schedule on-track, and follow-up with any changes and the payments. There are a lot of places where things can go wrong in this process, which eats up even more of your attention. When you allow a property manager to step in, they often have preferred general contractors that they’ve worked with many times before, or they have their own employees in-house.
Keeps You in Compliance with All Local, State and Federal Laws
The laws and regulations that cover the rental industry can be complex, and they change over time. If you don’t comply with these measures, you could face costly fines and other issues. The property management company stays up-to-date on the latest laws so that you avoid these situations.
Does Property Management Fit Your Needs as a Baltimore Metro Area Landlord
Before contacting property management companies to get a quote or to move forward with a selection, ask yourself whether this type of service truly fits your needs. When you look at your current real estate investment situation, you can assess whether bringing in a property manager will give you the desired results.
Situations That Benefit From Property Management Companies
Spending All of Your Time Managing Properties
Do you find your free time slipping away from you? Have you had one too many family events interrupted by tenant emergencies? It’s hard to scale up your real estate investing when maintaining them spills over into your free time.
Encountering High Tenant Turnover
Are tenants leaving your properties long before you expect? Do you have one problematic set of tenants after another? High turnover means that you have to spend more time marketing the property and getting it ready for new people.
Losing Money on Investment Properties
Do you find yourself in a situation where you have a negative ROI or you don’t have as much capital as you’d like? Optimizing the profit for each unit requires a deep understanding of the factors that influence rental profitability.
Getting Frustrated Dealing With Tenants
Not everyone is a people person, and that doesn’t stop someone from becoming a landlord. Miscommunication, arguments and other negative interactions can create many problems for your income goals.
Due to the importance of a quality tenant experience throughout the renting process, it’s usually a good idea to bring in property managers who have a lot of experience handling common landlord-tenant situations.
Units Sitting Unfilled
Every month that your units aren’t rented is another month that you’re throwing rental income away. You need help filling them quickly without compromising on the quality of the tenants. Trying to do a lot of showings and keeping up on inquiries via email, messenger, text, and phone can eat up a lot of time.
Don’t Want to Employ Workers or Manage Contractors
General maintenance, plumbing, and electrical work come up from time to time at your rental units. You either have to employ workers or manage contractors to ensure that everything gets done to code. Managing these projects is another time-sink and can lead to a lot of frustration, depending on your ability to find quality service providers.
Dealing with Complicated Rules
You have to follow many legal requirements when you rent out your investment properties. These regulations change over time, which means that you have to stay up to date on everything. Failing to do so could lead to fines, lawsuits and other negative consequences.
If you’re in any of the above situations, then you will likely see a quality of life improvement when you bring in a property management company. They can handle all of these scenarios and more, allowing you to focus your time and resources towards other parts of real estate investment.
Poor Fit Characteristics
With that being said, property management services aren’t for everyone. Here are a few characteristics that may result in a lot of frustration when working with a property manager.
Prefer to Retain Full Control Over the Property
If you have problems with delegation or giving up some control over your rental units, then you may find yourself clashing with a property management company. You won’t be able to realize the benefits of working with this type of service if your time, resources, and attention are eaten up by double-checking everything the property manager does or questioning their decisions every step of the way.
Want to be Hands-on With Tenant Selection
One of the biggest time savers that you get with a property management company is its ability to market your unit, screen for qualified tenants and doing the showings. You can still get a lot of benefits out of using the property management company for your ongoing needs, rather than the first part of the rental process. This characteristic is different from wanting to meet the tenants moving into your rental unit. It’s natural to want to meet the people who will be living in your units, even if a property management company is handling everything else for you.
Has a Micromanagement Style
Property management companies follow the guidelines set by their landlord clients, as well as their own internal policies, and operate relatively autonomously due to the nature of their service. They’re out in the field often and need to use their own judgement to choose a course of action. They’re not always able to check-in with the landlord before making these decisions, such as in an emergency. For people who have a micromanagement style of working with service providers, property management companies are a poor choice. It’s logistically difficult to have this set up with property managers, and people end up losing time instead of gaining it.
Creating a Property Management Company Shortlist
There are a lot of property management companies in the Baltimore Metro area. Determining which ones are the best fit for your rental properties requires a thorough, multi-round evaluation process. While this sounds like a lot of work, you’re choosing a service offering essential support for your long-term real estate investment goals. Getting the right match from the start saves you a lot of time and frustration down the road.
You don’t have to dive into every detail of a property management company when you’re making your short list. Think of this step as a broad stroke to eliminate the services that are clearly a bad match for you.
Finding Property Management Companies in the Baltimore Metro Area
Here are a few ways that you can find businesses to add to your starting list:
- Search online for property management companies in Baltimore
- Get recommendations from other real estate investors
- Look through professional property management directories
- Look at reviews on various professional service sites
- Get referrals at local real estate club meetings
- Look into the property management companies used by other landlords
- Talk to renters in your social circle to see which companies their landlords use
Narrowing Down the Property Management Field
You probably end up with a sizeable list once you’re done with the first step. Here are the most important characteristics to look at when you’re determining whether you should contact that property management company for more information about their services:
- Pricing and Fee Structure: Property management companies don’t always have their pricing and fees available on their website, since it can be a highly variable quote. However, for those that do, you can quickly figure out whether they would be an affordable option for you. Some costs that you may see when you’re choosing a property management company is a rate based off of a percentage of the monthly rental costs. You may see tenant acquisition costs, which tend to be a flat rate, and other flat fees that cover maintenance and legal expenses.
- Commercial and/or Residential Services: Some property management companies specialize in one area or the other, while others offer both.
- Company Size: Are you looking to work with a large, national company or a family owned local business with ties to the community that your rental properties are in? You can have a very difference experience with those two extremes, or the options in the middle.
- Services Provided: Make sure that the property management company offers the types of services that you expect. You don’t want to waste time evaluating a service provider that doesn’t have you covered on the basics.
- Licensing, Certifications, and Continuing Education: Property management companies may mention their licensing, certifications, and the continuing education that they pursue to keep up to date on the latest changes in the rental world.
- Insurance: Check that the property management company carries an appropriate amount of insurance to cover their business operation.
- Educational and Industry Backgrounds: Check out the About page on property management websites to learn more about the background of key people in the organization. You can see whether they have a lot of experience in real estate, property management, and other helpful areas.
- Listing Photography and Marketing: Check out some of the properties that the company currently has listed on their website. Does the photography look good? Are there plenty of details about the listing? Is everything presented in a professional light? If possible, look up that rental unit on other sites to see some of their off-site advertising methods.
Now that you’ve culled the list down to a hopefully manageable number, it’s time to compare these options to find the right property management company for you.
Evaluating Baltimore Property Management Companies
Now it’s time to learn as much as you can about potential property management companies in the Baltimore Metro area. Keep the long-term potential of each prospect in mind as you go through the list. Sometimes a property management company may seem tempting over the short term, but you end up leaving money on the table in those situations. Ask each property management company lots of questions.
How Many Properties Are in Your Real Estate Portfolio?
Do you have one rental unit or 100? Your portfolio dictates the size of the company that you end up choosing, since you don’t want to connect with a service that doesn’t have the capacity to handle high volume rentals.
What is the Company Culture?
What does the company stand for? What are the values that it upholds? See if the company culture meshes with your own values and what’s important to you when you’re choosing a company to do business with. Their reputation can impact how people view you, so checking to see if you align can save a lot of trouble down the road.
Who are Their External Partners?
Does the property management company work with external partners for part of their services, such as their preferred general contractor, plumber, or electrician? Look into these organizations to ensure that they have a good reputation too.
How Do They Treat Tenants?
Is the property management company known for interacting with tenants in a professional manner, or are there a lot of reviews and stories in your social circle about them being utter nightmares? You can’t maximize your rental unit’s income if the property manager creates an environment that’s likely to lead to a bad tenant experience.
What Are Their Rental Policies?
Look at the typical rental policies that they follow for other listings. What are the standard policies that they follow for each of the rental units? You’re typically able to choose the policies that you’d prefer for your property, such as whether or not to allow pets, but it’s a good idea to see what they offer as well.
Do They Own Investment Properties?
On one hand, owning investment properties gives the property managers first-hand experience on everything that’s involved in handling rental units. On the other hand, they would technically be your competition and have a potential conflict of interest, especially if they have rental units in your Baltimore neighborhood. Figure out your comfort level with this type of situation so you know whether you should skip these property management companies or not.
What Landlord Support Resources Do They Offer?
If you need help or have questions, what type of resources does the property management company offer to assist you? Do they have an online portal that makes it easy to track your rental payments or a blog that provides advice at improving your landlord and real estate investment skills? Do you have convenient ways of contacting the property management company through communication channels that you prefer?
How Responsive Are They to Inquiries?
You’ll need to connect directly with the property management company to find out some of the information necessary for the evaluation process. When you reach out to them, how quickly do they get in touch with you? Are they answering you in full whenever you talk to them or do you have to fight to get answers to your questions?
What’s Their Process For Setting Rent Prices?
One way that a property management company helps you optimize your rental income in the Baltimore is by setting the right rental prices. These market rates vary based on many factors, but are designed to get the most income while limiting the potential for long vacancies.
How Often Does the Property Management Company Inspect the Property?
When you have long-term tenants in your rental units, the property management company can schedule inspections annually or on another schedule to ensure that everything is well-maintained and there aren’t any issues that need to be repaired or replaced.
Can You Get Client Referrals?
Ask the property management company for referrals to their current clients, so you can talk with people who have used the service yourself. It’s unlikely that the property management company will send you to a client that’s neutral or unhappy with their service, so there is some bias in the input, but it’s useful information to reference alongside the rest of your research.
What is the Maintenance Process?
How do tenant request maintenance services? What happens if the request goes beyond the basic services included in the base fee? Make sure that this entire process is spelled out and that it’s easy for tenants to alert the property management company about any problems. Slow responses to requests that directly impact the tenant’s quality of life can lead to poor lease renewal rates and reputation damage.
What Marketing Services Does the Property Management Company Provide?
Get more details about how the property management company markets your rental units, such as the number of sites that it gets posted on and whether they maintain their own database of interested tenants. If you’re interested in services that go beyond the basics, see what else the property management company can do for you, such as setting up paid search advertising campaigns.
Can You See Sample Lease Agreements and Property Management Contracts?
Take some time to go through the terms of the contract with the property management company, as well as a sample of the lease agreement. These documents should give you a full understanding of what the property management company has to offer and what limitations and restrictions are in place.
How Does the Property Managers Handle Conflict Resolution?
An unfortunate fact of landlord life is that you’ll encounter conflict with a tenant eventually. The property management company should have procedures in place for handling standard disagreements, whether they occur between two tenants, between you and the tenants, or between the property management company and the tenants.
Do They Handle the Eviction Process?
Find out whether the property management company can go through the full eviction process for you. It can be time-consuming in some cases, and you must get everything filed correctly, or the tenant may have grounds to get the eviction delayed or dismissed.
How Do They Collect and Deposit Payment?
Does the property management company take payment via check and/or electronic payment processing? Online payment options streamline this process for the tenants and yourself. Checks can be cumbersome, as either you or the property management company would need to go to the bank to make this deposit.
How Do They Handle Tenant Communication?
Look at the communication channels in place for tenants. Do they primarily rely on written, in-person, or phone conversations? In case of miscommunication or a conflict, having a text audit trail can make it easier to resolve issues and to prove what was said.
What Reports Do They Provide?
Does the property management company supply reports about your rental unit performance? When you have multiple properties that are rented out, getting a comprehensive view of the ones that make you the most profit and other financial metrics can guide your real estate investment strategy. You also want reports on the expenses that were incurred as part of the property management service.
What Does the Move-in Move-out Process Look Like?
Have the property management company walk you through what happens during a move-in and a move-out. They can go over any checklists that they reference and the things that they look for.
What Happens in an Emergency?
Hopefully, you never have to deal with an emergency, but you should have a disaster plan in place with the property managers for the appropriate response to something like a fire or water pipe bursting.
What Data Security Measures Do They Have in Place?
The property managers have access to sensitive data, such as tenant social security numbers and payment information. How do they protect this information against data breaches? They may run their processes through a third-party software provider that offers strong security measures designed for the real estate industry or have their own in-house strategies.
What Do They Offer That’s Different from Other Property Management Companies in the Baltimore Metro Area?
Find out the areas that they specialize in that set them apart from your other options. You may find that you want to do business with a local family-owned property management company, or you could look for a service that focuses on a narrow part of the Baltimore Metro area.
What’s Their Average Time to Fill Vacant Units in Baltimore?
Get an idea of how long it will take to get tenants into your rental units after someone leaves.
What’s the Average Retention Rate for a Tenant?
Getting tenants into units quickly is great, but you also need to know that these are quality placements that last through one renewal or more. Find out the retention rates alongside the time to fill.
What Does Rent Ready Mean to the Property Managers?
Your definition of rent-ready and the property management company’s may be completely different. Talk to them about this matter or, even better, walk with them through one of their current vacancies and have them point out everything that they expect to be in place before a tenant steps foot into the rental unit.
Do They Help with Potential Real Estate Investments?
If you’re interested in expanding your real estate investments to include more rental units, see if you can run these listings by the property management company for an estimate of a market rate rent.
A quality property management company in the Baltimore Metro area serves as your long-term partner in real estate investing success. This evaluation process is designed to give you the best chance of finding the right service provider.
Do you still have questions about property management services or would you like more information about what Meseroll Holding, LLC can do for you? Contact us today, and we’ll be happy to help.