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Life gets harder in winter. It’s harder to get around, harder to stay warm — and harder to find tenants. Here’s our guide for how to not get stuck with an empty unit during the cold season.
The snow is one factor, but even if you’re in a warmer place winters are still typically the slowest rental months by far. Darker and colder days lead people to hunker down in their dens, and on a practical level the holidays often discourage people from moving in midwinter too. Tenants might be out of town late in December, reluctant to lose family time to packing and moving, or simply too stressed to add house-hunting to their list of early-winter responsibilities.
With that in mind, then, the best way to find a tenant in the winter is to keep the one you have. If your unit is empty because you evicted the tenant, that’s one thing. But if the current renter’s lease is just ending, it’s often worth negotiating with them to stay on until the spring, either on month-to-month or a 6-month contract.
You might need to offer them a deal to stay, but attracting a new tenant in winter often requires offering a deal or discount anyway. Better to get that out of the way up front than extend it over a whole year.
Applications are especially sparse in the winter months, no question. But if you’re struggling to drum up interest in a unit you should always start by trying to improve the listing.
To do better with the winter market, why not tailor your listing to the season by emphasizing qualities that make the winter easier (playing up heating, a fireplace, cozy interior, proximity to transit, and so on)? Or play on renters’ nostalgia for nicer months by describing what will be possible in the space or the nearby area as spring arrives.
Having high-quality, well-lit photos taken in the most beautiful months are also always a plus.
Screening becomes more crucial when you have fewer options and more urgency. Settling for an applicant who later turns out to be a straight-up bad tenant is the most obvious danger. But you also don’t want to be saddled with someone who decided to pay more than they can afford just to have a place over winter but eventually has the cost catch up with them later in the year.
If the market is sparse enough that you don’t have much choice, a shorter-term deal (under a discount if necessary) can save you from being stuck all year with someone who isn’t ideal. Plus it lets you take a crack at a hotter market and wider pool of applicants in the late spring, summer, or even early fall.
Generally, having an extra month’s vacancy can be worth it to find the right long-term tenant. But in the winter, it can be worth lowering your rate to increase the pool of applicants rather than letting the property lie fallow for months. It’s better to make a little less than usual on those months but have enough of a pool to screen properly for reliability, fit, and willingness to do a shorter or longer lease to avoid the winter problem in the future.
Alternatively, well-chosen perk that makes the tenant’s life easier can replace a dip in rent, and can give you an edge over comparable units. How much of a sweetener to give depends on the likelihood of losing a full month, the cost of the rent itself, and your own discretion.
Here are some options you can consider:
This survey compared the appeal of different options for sweeteners, and found that although a cost reduction is by far the preferred option for most tenants, getting a washer/dryer, gym membership, or free cable/internet also held some sway.
You don't want to start off the tenancy with an injury, a complaint, or just a miserable tenant. So, if you live in the same city, try to ensure the walkways to your property are cleared and non-slippery on move-in day. Make sure you've turned on any necessary utilities in advance, especially if the property has been empty for some time.
You’ll also want the tenants or their movers to have a clear parking spot near the walkway. It wouldn’t hurt to leave the snow shovel out in case it’s needed, along with a bag of sand for if the walkway freezes again.
Cover up your floors where the new renters will be walking, to avoid falls, scrapes, and damage from the melting snow or road salt that will get tracked in. Not only is moving in winter a hassle for landlords and tenants, it can also be a hassle for the building itself.
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