A Chicago landlord’s advice re rental services

by Joe Zekas on 3/10/14

A recent comment contains a lot of solid advice for small landlords on how to deal with Chicago’s piratical rental services. Here’s a lightly-edited version:

My advice to any landlord, newby or seasoned, is to AVOID DOING BUSINESS WITH ANY OF THEM.

If you must use them, consider the agent as simply someone who found a prospect and drove them to your building. You must be at the appointment and take over the showing and answer the prospect’s questions yourself and visit with them. Later, if the agency emails their application – which is never encrypted so the tenant’s personal information could be hacked – put it off to the side. Contact your prospects and invite them over for a second showing WITHOUT the agent present and have them fill out YOUR OWN application and release form and show an official photo ID.

Purchase their credit report from a vendor where you should have opened an account with beforehand. See Mr Landlord or The Landlord Protection Agency for help. These sites have alot of useful information for landlords. Using the signed release, fax the prospect’s present and former landlords for verification. All this must be at no cost to your applicant since they already paid an application fee to the agency. Later, you must use your own lease form and sign and collect funds at the apartment with only you present.

Keep the agent away. YOU CANNOT TRUST THE AGENCY TO PROVIDE YOU WITH TRUTHFUL BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE PEOPLE THEY BRING OVER. I had one well known agency present a phony credit report. Another threatened to pull my listing unless I agreed to sign a lease with someone I wouldn’t meet until AFTER he moved in. Another had agents who were no-shows. Another claimed to verify employment but I found that to be a lie. Another wanted me to rent where the rent was MORE than the person’s income. Another refused to give me a photocopy of the prospect’s driver’s license because “it was against Fair Housing Laws.” Another said you have to show the apartment to anyone who wants to see it – it’s unlawful to ask questions or pre-qualify.

These people do not screen who they bring over. They have a first name and cell number. That’s it, in most cases. Anybody that can fog a mirror. By not screening prospects they are annoying your tenants and putting them and their belongings and your property at risk, as well as breaking the law by not giving required advance notice. They expect immediate access. You say no pets. They bring someone with pets.

I have listed with and been solicited by many. In my opinion, all of them are sharks who only care about the commission. There is no reason to pay them to find a tenant when with a little homework, a small landlord can go it alone. The only reason they stay in business is that the majority of tenants and landlords are responsible people and the deals go through without a hitch. I’ve met only a handful of good individual agents and guess what? They leave these sharks and go into sales with a reputable brokerage. Most of the other agents I’ve met are pleasant enough (as opposed to their bosses) but are untrained and don’t really know anything about apartments or how to show them and thus are time wasters.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Eric Rojas March 12, 2014 at 1:30 PM

I agree with a lot of this advice, but why even have random apartment services bring people if you have to then play games and avoid them?

I’m a full time Real Estate Broker and Realtor. If a new or experienced landlord wants or needs to have a broker represent them, they can also hire a full-time licensed broker experienced in both sales and rentals. What many landlords do not know (accidental or otherwise) is the Top 10% of brokers in Chicago Association of Realtors and elsewhere are often happy to work with landlords and handle rental transactions.

Both the tenants and landlords make great relationships for a broker and can generate future clients and referrals.

A full time professional and successful broker will handle the listing, the landlord and tenants like any client… with respect and class. The marketing will be the same as a for- sale unit and the listing will be put in the MLS.

They will handle all the details and paperwork required by law. The broker is also regulated, and, if a full time successful professional will not likely risk their entire career to falsify a rental applicant (at least I wouldn’t!).

Additionally, the broker will be a layer of risk management for the landlord (arms length transaction).

When we have rental clients looking for a home we look for, and advise them on, all opportunities. They have a choice to work with us and walk the streets looking for a rental sign. However, we let our clients or customers know we prefer dealing with professional MLS listed properties by good brokers. It tends to go well with everyone. We also know good landlords that may be a good fit.

If you are listing a property with a licensed real estate broker who is a member of the MLS, you can expect great exposure. The MLS feeds the many, many third party sites out there. There is no secret. A monkey can put a good listing in the MLS and qualified people will see it.

Some brokers do even more like paid Chicago Reader ads and personal blogs that feed to the many hyper-local neighborhood sites (this is what I do).

However, as the comments above suggest, there is a difference in how the tenants, landlords and all aspects of the rental transaction are handled. That’s mostly what people seeking a broker need… good service and someone to just handle it without issues.

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