Calendar icon June 28, 2023

Property Management Fees: Opportunities for Growth

If you’re familiar with Second Nature, you know that supporting SFR property managers in building triple win experiences is our focus. So today, we’re taking on the thorny topic of property management fees within SFR property management companies. And we’re turning to one of the leading industry educators on the subject: Todd Ortscheid, owner of PM Assist

Here’s what we’ll cover in this article.

Key Learning Objectives:

  • How to structure your property management fees for growth
  • The benefits and challenges of charging property management fees
  • How you can use fees to add value for yourself, your clients, and your residents
  • How to introduce fees without turning clients off
  • Examples of property management fees you might not be employing (yet)

Meet the Expert: Todd Ortscheid

Todd spent 14 years as an airline pilot – an industry known for capitalizing on fee structures as a growth strategy. He took over his father’s property management company after the 2008 real estate crash and eventually tripled the company’s number of doors. As the co-owner of PM Assist, he offers training and counsel on finding new ways to increase company revenue, process automation, and profit per unit.

Todd is a true entrepreneur and creative thinker, with ideas that challenge the status quo and may even ruffle some feathers. But Todd’s strategies have proven to help grow property management companies, and we’re thrilled to share his insights.

Related: State of Resident Experience Study

 

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What Property Management Fees Are Standard?

You should be seeing income on anything you’re spending money on as well. Anything you want to do to create more value for residents or investors? You should charge a fee for that so your company can stay competitive and your employees can get paid. 

Here are a few examples to get you started.

Inspection & Maintenance Fees

How much time are you spending on periodic property inspections? How much money are you spending on maintenance costs? How valuable is your staff's time? 

Todd says, “You have to be charging for this. Don't just include maintenance requests and inspections as part of your monthly management fee.”

Marketing Fees

Todd says, “I'm sure a lot of you are probably in markets where Zillow started charging you to put your listings on their website. And I've heard a lot of property managers say it's just a cost we're absorbing. Don't do that. Pass on that cost. Call it a marketing fee or the Zillow fee or whatever you want to make sure you're making money on that. Never pay for your own property management costs – come up with some way to cover all of these costs that you have for your business.”

Insurance Risk Mitigation Fees

If your investor doesn’t have insurance, you are often the one who will suffer. 

Todd advises charging a fee if your investor doesn’t send a policy within 30 days. 

“Tell them, ‘This new fee will be charged as a mitigation fee for the additional risk we have.’ You will not believe how quickly people will send you their insurance policies if you do this. We only charged a nominal fee. But a flood of emails came in after I sent out that notice to owners. So this isn't about making more money. For the most part, it's about influencing behavior and ensuring you get the insurance policies you need.”

Account Creation Fees 

As a property manager, you can charge a set fee to investors to create an account with your company. This fee may or may not cover various other costs such as any related property inspection requirements or tenant communications. 

Recurring Management Fees

Recurring (typically monthly) property management fees are extremely common in the industry, and will be built into the initial contract signed between the investor and the property management company. The amount can be based on a flat fee structure, or tied to a percentage of the monthly rent collected.

Vendor Screening Fees

It’s a hassle to use vendors outside your usual network.

“If you have property owners who want to use their vendor instead of your preferred vendors, that creates more work for you.”

If you charge a flat fee, they’ll likely drop it, and you’ve saved yourself that extra work. If they want to keep their vendors and pay the fee, at least you’re getting paid for that extra work.”

Rent Protection Fees or Eviction Fee

A huge area of value for investors is protecting them from unwanted risk. Investors have to deal with concerns about evictions, lost rental income, and more. Property management companies can take on that risk for a fee. You can say you’ll cover missed rent if the investor pays a monthly fee. 

The win for PMCs is that the risk is often low, and you can often control it (controlling for on-time rent due by charging late rent fees, for example). You get the fee, and you will rarely have to take the hit on the month’s rent.

The win for investors is they don’t have to worry about it at all.

Contract resiliation fees

For investors that terminate the property management contract prematurely, you can charge an early termination fee, the amount of which will vary depending on the contract's terms. The fee may cover a month or more of management fees.

Resident Fees

Todd emphasizes that the real moneymaker is resident fees. Plus, charging fees for unwanted behaviors – like late rent, paper leases, failure to change HVAC filters, etc. – can help drive better behavior. 

Todd uses examples like

  • Security deposit processing fee
  • Leasing fee or a lease amendment fee
  • Paper lease setup fee
  • Lease renewal fee
  • Late fee
  • Special programs fee

“Of course, the resident benefit package is the big one. This is a way for you to provide additional services to your residents and make some money off of it.”

What Are the Factors that Influence Property Management Fees?

Ultimately, the fees you charge should reflect your operational reality, and can vary depending on a range of factors:

  • Property location: Properties located in areas with higher operational expenses may incur higher management fees compared to those in other regions.
  • Property condition: The condition of the property, and whether it is new or renovated, affects maintenance requirements and thus can influence management costs.
  • Property size: The size of the rental property directly influences the workload of the property manager, with larger properties typically incurring higher fees.

Scope of services: The range of services provided by the property management company significantly impacts the fees charged. Basic services like rent collection command lower fees, while comprehensive management services covering rent collection, vacancy filling, repairs, evictions, and financial record-keeping for taxes entail higher costs.

How Should Property Managers Structure Fees? 

Real estate investors often focus on determining what fair or typical property management pricing should be. A general rental property management fee includes collecting the month’s rent, following up on arrears, organizing property maintenance and repairs, and keeping abreast of legal requirements. 

That’s the baseline. But the growth is in what you do on top of that baseline. 

Todd breaks down pricing like this:

“Only 40% of your revenue should come from your property management fee. 60% of our revenue is not management-fee related. If most of your money comes from your management fee, you're doing it wrong. That's not going to last very long.”

And here’s the difference those added fees can make to your bottom line:

“According to recent numbers from Profit Coach, the average PM company gets about $170 a month in revenue. $170 per door per month. I just looked at the profit coach dashboard for my company, and over the last 12 months, we have averaged $320 per unit per month.”

The nugget in there is that the market should determine your base property management fee. But that often cheats PMCs, giving property managers extra work without fairly compensating them for the additional time, effort and cost. You can – and, according to Todd, you should – be charging for that extra work and extra value that you provide as a professional.

Note: Todd emphasizes that ALL fees should be communicated upfront during the onboarding process and lease agreement. Fees aren’t about tricky pricing or hidden markups. They’re about charging for value and driving behavior.

What Are the Benefits and Challenges of Charging Property Management Fees? 

Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of charging additional fees for your additional property management services. 

Benefit 1: More Revenue = Better Service

Todd points out that you can't really provide the level of service that you want if you don't have enough revenue coming in. 

“We've got to be able to provide fantastic service, and the only way you can do that is with revenue. You have to start looking at this as something that you have to do. Your clients and your residents are suffering if you don't.”

It’s a fantasy to think we can offer premium service without paying for the resources they cost us. 

Benefit 2: More Revenue = Happier Employees

Your team deserves to be paid for their work, especially if it’s extra work caused by a difficult resident or investor. Fees help reduce workload because they discourage behaviors that add to busy work. But more on that in the next section.

Todd says:

“Property management company owners talk to me all the time about how they can't afford to pay higher wages in the current market. The reason you can't take better care of your employees is that you're struggling to get by just on a basic management fee. Charging fees for what your services are worth is the only way you’re going to be able to provide competitive wages and benefits.”

Benefit 3: Charging for Service Drives Better Habits

According to Todd, fees drive behavior. Your investors and residents will respond to fees in a way they may not respond to anything else. 

For example, home warranties are a huge hassle for everyone. If you want to discourage investors from using a warranty company, simply charge a fee for anyone that does.

On the resident side, an example is late payment fees. If you communicate from the start that late payments will draw a fee – you’ll notice how payments come in on time much more often. 

Benefit 4: Greater Profits

This one speaks for itself. But here’s what Todd says:

“Never pay for your own cost of running your business. This isn't a charity. Every single expense in your company should be tied to some income you're going to make.”

 

download rental inspection checklist template

 

Challenge 1: Will Investors Be Turned Off by Fees?

In the long run, if you’re charging fees for premium services, you can provide a better outcome for investors. But how can you get them on board with this concept? 

Todd says it’s all in the language we use. 

“People don't understand that the management fee is really a rent collection fee. We shouldn't call it a management fee because it makes it sound like everything we do is included, which is of course, crazy. There's so much that can't be looped into that one thing. We should call it a rent collection fee because that's really what it is. You've got to get your mindset right on this stuff. Don't be afraid of it.”

Challenge 2: Regulations (AKA: Always Talk to Your Attorney First)

Regulations vary across regions, so rental property managers must be familiar with local laws. You may not be allowed to charge fees for certain types of services. But you can almost always categorize a service within an administrative fee. 

But discussing any fees and contracts with your attorney before implementing them in the real world is key. Oh, and you should charge for your legal fees!

How Do Fees Help Property Managers Add Value and Create a Positive Resident Experience?

The additional fees generated by delivering new and higher service levels are a reflection of a positive, resident-focused experience. 

In fact, such additional services are exactly what can set professionals apart from amateurs. Instead of letting increasing competition cut your legs from under you, Todd advises finding ways to generate value that the amateur property managers or real estate agents-turned-property-managers can’t compete with.

And, of course, charge for that value.

“I always tell people that I don't like to say no to clients or residents,” Todd says. “Instead, I like to say, ‘Sure, we're happy to do that. And this is how much that costs.’ You just want to be careful and ensure you’re actually doing things that the owners will find valuable.

Charging fees allows a property management company to offer premium services and benefits they couldn’t if they didn’t have that extra revenue. It’s a perspective shift, but Todd believes we need to start viewing fees as a generative, value-driving approach to property management. 

How Can I Use Fees to Generate Ancillary Income?

In the end, you might think of fees as a burden that will drive away investors, but the truth is the exact opposite. Fees help you drive more premium value for both your investors and your residents – and support your business and employees at the same time. 

At Second Nature, that’s what we call a Triple Win. We aim to help property management companies drive Triple Wins like this all the time. We do it through the value proposition of a Resident Benefits Package. An RBP offers value to investors by delivering a full-service resident experience. And, yes, that’s something property managers charge a fee for!

Since it’s fully managed by our team, you can basically plug it in and let it drive value for you, your investors, and your residents.

Fee FAQs

Q:  What is included in the property management fee?

Property management fees typically cover a range of services, which vary from company to company. Sample inclusions:

  • inspection & maintenance fees
  • marketing fees
  • insurance risk mitigation fees
  • account creation fees 
  • recurring management fees
  • vendor screening fees
  • rent protection fees or eviction fee
  • contract resiliation fees
  • security deposit processing fee
  • leasing fee or a lease amendment fee
  • paper lease setup fee
  • lease renewal fee
  • late fee
  • special programs fee

Q: What is the average property management fee?

The average property management fee varies according to region and state, as well as from company to company. In addition, these fees are largely dependent on the value, responsibilities, and services the property manager brings to the table. Generally, they amount to a fixed percentage of collected rent, as opposed to a flat fee.

Keep learning

Property Management Pest Control Gone Wrong: Resident Horror Stories & Nightmares

In the world of property management and real estate investing, maintaining a clean and pest-free environment is central to the well-being of the residents who live in your properties. That being said, effective pest control is not only a best practice, but also a strategic move that enhances your properties’ living experience, making your life as a property manager easier and your residents happier. Pest control is crucial for several reasons: Investing in pest control saves significant potential costs by avoiding large-scale infestations and property damage, enhancing resident satisfaction with a healthier, pest-free environment, and preserving property value. This approach reduces health risks, protects against liability, and maintains a good reputation by demonstrating the property management company’s dedication to providing safe, comfortable living spaces for great tenants. Ultimately, pest control sets professional property management companies apart from DIY and amateur real estate investors by safeguarding both residents' well-being and property assets. By addressing these points, you can foster a positive living environment that benefits both you and your residents. It’s important to note that our goal is not to call out “good tenants” vs. “bad tenants.” Instead, we always aim to foster a constructive dialogue focused on addressing problems and finding solutions. By emphasizing respect and fairness, we can help create a positive environment that benefits all residents, ensuring their rights and dignity are always respected. Also note that even though we here at Second Nature prefer the term "resident" over "tenant" to foster the human element, the word "tenant" may still be used occasionally due to its long-standing legal and real estate context. "House of Horror" Stories Most property managers have encountered their share of resident horror stories – and many, not for the first time. These tales often involve unexpected and severe pest infestations, made worse by residents' behaviors. Indeed, from bedbugs and roaches (the truly bad tenants any property manager is looking to be rid of) to animal issues, the range of pest problems is vast and daunting. Our "House of Horror Stories" video provides a vivid account of these situations, including some landlord horror stories that are too distressing to include here. Maggots falling from the ceiling: A tenant reported maggots falling from the ceiling onto their bed. The pest company discovered that these maggots were larvae of beetles infesting the air ducts in the neighborhood. Pets and extensive damage: Animals in one property caused extensive damage by covering all floors with feces and chewing through doors, door frames, flooring, HVAC systems, and appliances, with clean-up costs exceeding $15,000. Flushable wipes backup: A tenant flushing baby wipes caused a major sewage backup, leading to water damage throughout multiple rooms (including the living room and master bedroom), with clean-up costs close to $5,000. Donkey in the basement: During the purchase inspection, a donkey was found tied to the deck and later moved to the basement to hide it from animal control, calling for its quick removal. Rodents damaging appliances: Rats infested a property, chewing through a new dishwasher, insulation, and electrical wires, requiring repeated pest control visits and extensive repairs. These stories from a range of contributors highlight the unpredictable and often extreme challenges property managers face in maintaining their properties and ensuring the safety and well-being of their residents. How to Control Resident Pest Issues A robust pest control program is often the property manager’s best friend. After all, infestations can be difficult to proactively defend against, given that background checks, references, and tenant screening go only so far in uncovering the pest issues that can befall even the best tenants. Regardless of the challenges residents may present, a comprehensive pest control plan can mitigate potential infestations before they escalate into true horror stories. This includes timely intervention, and educating residents about maintaining cleanliness. Providing residents with clear guidelines on waste disposal and food storage can also significantly mitigate pest problems. Additionally, offering pest control services as part of a Resident Benefits Package can encourage residents to report issues early, allowing for swift action. Planning Ahead When dealing with problematic residents, it's essential to have a clear action plan. Issuing notices to clean the property promptly (e.g., with a 7-day notice period) is a critical first step. Leveraging a notice-to-clean template can streamline the process and ensure that you comply with tenant laws and legal standards. If worst things come to worst, an eviction notice may become necessary. However, this process is governed by various rules and regulations that can differ significantly across federal and state lines. It's important to be well-versed in these laws to avoid legal pitfalls. A detailed “notice to vacate” template can be incredibly helpful for property managers looking to take care of these complex situations. Nipping Things in the Bud In conclusion, maintaining a pest-free environment is integral to property management success. On-Demand Pest Control is a service in Second Nature’s fully managed Resident Benefits Package (RBP). It offers predictable, cost-effective, and fast solutions when a pest issue arises. Instead of expensive scheduled preventive treatments, residents can request service as needed. This approach ensures fast response times, directly addressing the problem at hand and saving costs over recurring treatments Property managers simply select the best pest plan from four tiers of service levels to include in their RBP. When an issue arises, the resident reports it in the On-Demand Pest Control portal, and the pest issue will be resolved. Learn more about On-Demand Pest Control by getting in touch, or read our latest study on the impact of our RBP on the resident experience.

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Your Guide to Property Management Laws, Regulations, & Rules

Property management activities involve overseeing rental properties, ensuring they’re maintained, residents are managed, and finances are handled effectively. While a real estate license is not always necessary to manage rental properties, licensing requirements can vary significantly by state. Typically, states may require property managers to hold a real estate license or work under a licensed broker. Property managers should familiarize themselves with the specific regulations in their state to ensure compliance. What Are Some Important Property Management Rules and Regulations? Property management laws encompass various areas, ensuring the safety, rights, and responsibilities of both property managers and tenants. Key areas include: Anti-discriminatory laws: Fair housing laws such as the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) prevent discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. 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For instance, the California Department of Real Estate is responsible for regulating real estate activities, brokers, and salespersons, including those who work in property management, while the Texas Real Estate Commission handles these responsibilities in Texas. These agencies ensure compliance with state licensing laws and often provide resources and guidelines for property managers of both residential properties and commercial properties. Below is a table linking to the respective government sites for state-specific regulations: State State Body Alabama Alabama Real Estate Commission Alaska Alaska Real Estate Commission Arizona Arizona Department of Real Estate Arkansas Arkansas Real Estate Commission California California Department of Real Estate Colorado Colorado Division of Real Estate Connecticut Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection Delaware Delaware Real Estate Commission Florida Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation Georgia Georgia Real Estate Commission and Appraisers Board Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs' Real Estate Branch Illinois Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation Indiana Indiana Professional Licensing Agency Iowa Iowa Department of Inspections, Appeals, & Licensing Kansas Kansas Real Estate Commission (for commercial real estate property management only) Kentucky Kentucky Real Estate Commission Louisiana Louisiana Real Estate Commission Michigan Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Minnesota Minnesota Department of Commerce Mississippi Mississippi Real Estate Commission Missouri Missouri Division of Professional Registration Montana Montana Department of Labor and Industry Nebraska Nebraska Real Estate Commission Nevada Nevada Real Estate Division New Hampshire New Hampshire Real Estate Commission New Jersey New Jersey Real Estate Commission New Mexico New Mexico Real Estate Commission New York New York State Division of Licensing Services North Carolina North Carolina Real Estate Commission North Dakota North Dakota Real Estate Commission Ohio Ohio Division of Real Estate & Professional Licensing Oklahoma Oklahoma Real Estate Commission Oregon Oregon Real Estate Agency Pennsylvania Pennsylvania Real Estate Commission Rhode Island Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation South Carolina South Carolina Real Estate Commission South Dakota South Dakota Real Estate Commission Tennessee Tennessee Real Estate Commission Texas Texas Real Estate Commission Utah Utah Division of Real Estate Virginia Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation Washington Washington State Department of Licensing West Virginia West Virginia Real Estate Commission Wisconsin Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services Wyoming Wyoming Real Estate Commission Note: This list excludes resources from Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Tenant screenings Tenant screenings are a critical step in property management, involving background checks, credit checks, income verification, employment verification, rental history, and proof of ID to assess prospective tenants. This process helps ensure that potential renters are reliable and financially responsible. It's important to obtain signed consent before running credit checks, as required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), to comply with legal standards and protect tenant privacy. Another important guidance is provided by the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing-related activities based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability, ensuring equal access to housing for all individuals. Learn more about Tenant Screening Tips for PMs Lease agreements A lease agreement is a legally binding contract between the landlord and tenant, outlining the terms of the tenancy. Key components of rental agreements include lease terms, rent amount, security deposit regulations, and common clauses such as maintenance responsibilities and lease renewal terms. Regulations governing lease agreements can vary by state, so it's essential to ensure that leases comply with local laws. For instance, state laws often contain security deposit limits, provisions for the return of unused portions, as well as a clear accounting for any deductions. Consulting with a lawyer is crucial to ensure your agreement is legally sound and reflects your specific circumstances. We’ve shared some relevant resources below: Learn more about property management agreements, featuring a free template Learn about security deposit insurance, and its pros and cons Financial management Effective financial management in property management involves establishing clear rent collection procedures and maintaining organized financial records. This includes tracking rent payments, managing tenants’ security deposits, and adhering to landlord-tenant laws to avoid legal disputes and financial penalties. Keeping detailed records can help property managers resolve issues efficiently and ensure transparency with tenants and property owners. Solutions such as property management software can streamline financial operations, automate routine tasks, and perhaps most importantly - ensure accuracy and regulatory compliance with respect to various accounting regulations and legal requirements. Evictions Evictions are a legal process to remove a tenant from a property. Common reasons for eviction from rental units include nonpayment of rent, property damage, lease violations, and criminal activity. Property managers must follow their state's rules for eviction notices, such as unconditional quit terminations and termination for lease violations, to ensure the process is lawful and fair. State laws regarding unconditional quit terminations and terminations for violation of a lease vary widely. Unconditional quit notices typically demand that tenants move out immediately without an opportunity to remedy the violation. States like Indiana and Mississippi allow landlords to issue these notices for serious or repeated violations, with Mississippi requiring 14 days to move out. For lease violations, the notice period and the opportunity for tenants to remedy the breach also differ by state. For example, in Kentucky, tenants generally have 15 days of written notice to cure a violation, but if the same violation occurs within six months, landlords can issue a 14-day unconditional quit notice. In contrast, states like Iowa and Maine require a seven-day notice period for tenants to address lease violations before eviction proceedings can begin. In California, on the other hand, tenants must be given three days or more to cure the violation before landlords can file for eviction (source). These legal nuances emphasize the importance of PMs and tenants understanding their specific state regulations to navigate eviction processes appropriately. Property maintenance and repairs Maintaining rental properties is a legal obligation for landlords, ensuring that properties are safe, habitable, and free from hazards like lead, asbestos, and mold. This includes weatherproofing, providing adequate heating and water, and ensuring electrical systems are functional. You can find out more about these issues in our Property Maintenance Guide for PMs. Landlords must also give notice to tenants before entering the property for repairs, as required by most state laws. When in doubt, consult a legal advisor to ascertain the specific laws that apply to you in your state. Tenants have the right to a habitable living environment, and failure to meet these standards can lead to legal consequences as well as issues with occupancy rates. Indeed, when landlords fail to make required repairs, tenants have several options depending on their state's laws. Tenants may withhold rent, make the necessary repairs themselves and deduct the cost from the rent, pay a reduced rent, report the issue to local building inspectors who can order repairs, or even break the lease and move out. Additionally, tenants can sue the landlord for a partial refund of past rent or for damages caused by the substandard conditions, including discomfort and emotional distress. Get our preventative maintenance checklist for property management Learn about the importance of pest control to maintain a pest-free environment Second Nature's Guidance Staying informed about state-specific regulations, maintaining organized records, and ensuring compliance with federal laws such as the Fair Housing Amendments Act is key to successful property management. On a practical level, understanding and adhering to property management laws and regulations is crucial for property managers to ensure smooth operations, maintain property value, and foster positive tenant relationships. Learn more about property management company best practices, marketing, and more in our Second Nature Community.

Calendar icon July 3, 2024

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