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9 low-cost methods to retain tenants during Covid-19

9 low-cost methods to retain tenants during Covid-19
PHOTO: Stackedhomes

The mental image that Singaporeans have of landlords is all wrong. If you’re like most people who have a second property to rent out, you’ll know what we mean: everyone visualises you as a towkay who can sit back and just let the money roll in.

But given the Covid-19, your hairs may well be turning white – and now’s not the time for inaction. More than ever, landlords need to find ways to retain their tenants; and without methods that involve, say, huge discounts or expensive renovations.

Here are some basic, low-cost methods to note; especially if you’re new to the rental game:

A snapshot of the condo rental market since Q1 2020

The following are the monthly rental rates in the Core Central Region (CCR), Rest of Central Region (RCR), and OCR (Outside of Central Region), since the start of the year:

Rates in the CCR averaged $4,950 per month in Q1, and had risen 3.4 per cent to $5,119 per month in Q3.

RCR condos saw rents dip slightly; they averaged $3,389 in Q1, and $3,380 in Q3.

OCR condos averaged $2,583 per month in Q1, and $2,629 per month in Q3.

Note that at least some of the uptick in rental rates can be ascribed to the height of Covid-19. This was when some foreigners – such as Malaysians unable to return home due to control measures – were forced to seek rental options. The bulk of such cases, however, would have been in the rental flat rather than the condo market.

In the year to follow, however, landlords should brace for the possibility of a softening rental market. Real estate agents we spoke to highlighted two key risks:

  • An economic downturn could cost companies to shrink expatriate allowances, or replace them with locals.
  • “Second wave” infections abroad could result in travel bans and restrictions, further reducing the number of potential tenants entering Singapore.

This could result in increased leasing volumes*, coupled with shorter lease terms and a higher risk of vacancies.

*More leases may be signed, but they’re likely to be of a shorter duration, such as six months instead of a year. This is because tenants suspect rental rates will drop, and aim to renegotiate or find a cheaper alternative when it happens.

What are some ways to retain tenants, without steep discounts or pricey renovations?

Some methods you can easily apply are:

  • Take over the utilities, and claim them as tax deductions
  • Accept rental deposit guarantees
  • Implement a room-mate scheme
  • Start a referral chain
  • Reprice the loan and pass on savings (if possible)
  • Consider a small furnishing package
  • Offer annual deep-cleaning at the tenant’s direction
  • Reduce the tenant’s liability for small repairs
  • Paying their rent with a credit card

1. Take over the utilities, and claim them as tax deductions

Bear in mind that rental expenses can be deducted from your property tax. One of these deductions are the utility expenses: As long as you pay on behalf of the tenant (and are not reimbursed), you can take it out of your property tax.

This can be a win-win scenario: Your tenant gets to lower their monthly expenses, and you indirectly recoup the cost by paying lower tax. Note that internet charges are also tax-deductible this way.

However, do track the actual rental expenses more closely if you do this. IRAS allows you to either claim a flat 15 per cent of rental income as a deduction, or to file for the specific amounts. If your tenants are energy or water guzzlers, you may be better off claiming the exact amount.

2. Accept rental deposit guarantees

Using a rental deposit guarantee, the tenant pays an annual fee to a third party, which then funds their security deposit. This means a lower upfront cost to the tenant, as they don’t need to lock down one to two-months of rental as a deposit.

Companies like Sing-Guarantee provide this type of service, although there may be some variations in their methods.

Not all tenants are aware that this option exists, so you may want to point it out to them. While some traditionalist landlords are suspicious of the novelty, accepting such guarantees can make a tenant more likely to stick with you; or attract them in the first place.

ALSO READ: Should you rent to multiple tenants or a master tenant?

3. Implement a room-mate scheme

This is one of the reasons many landlords are advised to prefer two-bedders: two tenants might more easily afford the rental for a two-bedder, than one tenant can handle a whole shoebox unit (e.g. two tenants splitting $4,000 a month for a two-bedder unit pay $2,000 each, whereas one tenant renting a shoebox may pay about $2,500).

In some cases, you may be better off incentivising your tenant to find a room-mate to split the costs, rather than losing them outright. Some landlords will even lower the monthly rent slightly, if the tenant finds a room mate rather than leaves (it’s better than an outright vacancy).

4. Start a referral chain

This is quite common among landlords who rent out to students, who mostly come from the same school. The landlord simply gives a better rate to a future tenant, that’s referred by the current one.

For student tenants, this sets up an ongoing line of tenants – students who are graduating will recommend your property to their juniors, who in turn recommend it to their own juniors, and so forth.

This is sometimes done for training institutions and offices as well. For example, you could extend the same method to, say, air crew who refer their colleagues, or to expatriates who refer others in the company before moving on.

This does require that you make a good impression on existing tenants.

ALSO READ: What you should know about tenant-landlord rights in Singapore

5. Reprice the loan and pass on the savings (if possible)

Some home loan options come with free repricing options; and home loans are low right now due to Covid-19. Rates have fallen as low as 1.3 per cent .

Assuming your old home loan is for $1 million at two per cent (for 25 years), you’d be paying around $4,238.50 per month. Repriced to 1.3 per cent, repayments could fall to about $3,906 per month.

If rental income is your priority, you could pass on these savings to tenants, retaining them without taking too much of a loss.

However, do note that we use the term reprice and refinance. Refinancing is a different process that can cost between $2,500 to $3,000, whereas repricing is around $800 or potentially free (depending on your home loan features).

6. Consider a small furnishing package

This is a one-time deal, given to tenants who opt to renew their lease for an appropriate length.

A furnishing package allows tenants to pick items of furniture that they’d like on the property, such as replacement beds, study lamps, desks, a new microwave etc. Some landlords even include entertainment devices, such as game consoles.

While this does cost money, it’s cheaper than the cost of a vacancy. Also, the furnishings are an upgrade to your property anyway. Some of it – such as beds, desks, floor fans, etc. will continue to be of use to future tenants.

Do remember to add items from the furnishing package to the inventory list.

ALSO READ: A landlord's guide to evicting a problematic tenant in Singapore

7. Offer annual deep cleaning at the tenant’s direction

Deep cleaning services, also called moving-out / moving-in cleaning, typically costs up to $400. However, some landlords don’t hesitate to offer this once a year to tenants, for free.

Their reasoning is that they’d have to pay for it anyway. Just for the sake of maintenance, it’s a good idea to deep clean the unit at least once a year (and many landlords do this whenever a tenant moves out anyway, in preparation for the next one).

Because of this, you may as well position it as a perk for your tenants. Other than your basic requirements, do let the tenants pick out what they want – such as dust-mite removal from their mattresses, steam cleaning, etc. This may add a bit more to the costs, but it’s seldom a large amount.

8. Reduce the tenant’s liability for small repairs

In CEA’s template Tenancy Agreement (TA) , it usually spells out how much a tenant is liable to pay for certain small repairs. For example, your tenant may be required to pay the first $150 for damaged lights, water pipes, etc., before you cover the rest of the costs.

(We use $150 because it’s a common amount; the actual amount is negotiable)

Some landlords raise the attractiveness of their property by waiving this. They reason that the amount the tenant is liable for is not particularly significant anyway. Also, maintenance costs can usually be deducted from your property tax anyway (see point 1).

If your property is new, it’s also less probable that you’d end up paying for anything this way.

Do point this out to your tenants if you offer it; some of them are unaware that it isn’t the norm.

ALSO READ: Landlord details problems faced with his tenant but netizens say he's problematic too

9. Paying their rent with a credit card to earn miles

There are services out there that allow you to pay for your rent with a credit card (shamless plug: Renthero ). In return (depending on the type of credit card you use) that monthly rental payment will earn you airline miles.

Of course, there is a small transaction fee involved, but if you know your stuff ( Milelion is a great resource) it can potentially be worth paying those fees.

So absorbing those fees may go a long way in letting you retain your tenants. Travel may not exactly be the flavour of the month right now considering the situation, but you can be sure once it returns many will start travelling with a vengeance.

And if you have expatriate tenants, I’m sure they would appreciate enough miles to redeem a flight back home.

Besides all these, the best free thing you can do is know your tenants .

Make little notes so you can engage socially with them – student tenants notice when their landlord sends them chicken essence during exam week; or asks a family about their pet’s operation.

The annual Christmas / New Year greeting doesn’t just make tenants inclined to stay – it can also ease any potential disputes later.

For the latest updates on the coronavirus, visit here.

This article was first published in Stackedhomes.

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