I spent 10 years in the multifamily industry before starting RentConfident. For the first half of that time I was employed directly by the owner of roughly 50 Class C and Class D vintage walkup buildings scattered across the north side of Chicago. For the second half I was a licensed real estate agent focusing primarily on representing tenants in rental transactions across the city and suburbs of Chicago.
It has occurred to me that throughout the history of this blog I’ve spent a lot of time talking about what I learned during those years and in the time since I quit agency, but I haven’t really talked about what I did while I was working there. So for the next two weeks I’ll be doing “day in the life” articles, one from my time working for a landlord and the other from my time working for tenants.
The Landlord’s Agent
The job description when I started was quite simple: fill vacant apartments with new tenants. But this was a small company with 5 office employees and 15 maintenance workers handling nearly 1000 apartments. It was inevitably going to grow into a larger position and it did within a year. By the time I left I was handling the I.T. infrastructure for the office, drafting floorplans and taking photos and video for every unit, redesigning the company website from scratch and creating the year-end performance reports for the entire operation. Most weeks I was doing 16 hour days, 6 to 7 days a week in order to handle the load. Two of the buildings had elevators. None had central AC. None were built after 1933.
The tasks varied by season. During the warmer months there were a lot of showings and very little time for anything else. During the winter I’d have maybe two showing appointments per week and would spend the rest of the time doing paperwork. The day I’ll be describing in this article would be a midsummer weekday, not during the May rush but also not during the slow off-season. Weekends were usually quite similar to weekdays although on weekends the showings of occupied units were more scattered through the day.
The pay rate was $10 per hour plus a commission for each apartment rented starting at $150 per unit increasing by $50 every time I rented another 50 units in a 12 month period. To give you an idea of the volume I was handling, it was not unusual for me to be bringing in $400 per rental by December. I was an independent contractor so I had to cover my own insurance and licensing. They did however cover my cell phone bill. This was during the years from 2005-2010 for those of you wanting to calculate for inflation.
The Standard Work Day
7:00am. Breakfast at home, answering emails that came in overnight, usually about 50-60 of them. Review the new vacancy listings from the list printed out the night before. Draft up the text for fresh ads to post to Craigslist over lunch later on. Send notification emails to occupied apartments for any known showings on the calendar for tomorrow.
9:00am. Answer any voicemails that came in overnight and make any necessary calls and texts to people without email addresses to wrap up preparation for tomorrow.
10:30am. Hit the road to the first showings. I would usually do longer tours of multiple vacant units in the morning and early afternoon.
11:00am. First showings of the day. Each apartment takes 5 minutes to prep, 15 minutes to show, 5 minutes to shut down afterwards or less if I shut down as I cleared the rooms during the showing.
1:00pm. Wrap up first showing tour or first bank of 4 showings. Post the ads to Craigslist that I had drafted earlier in the morning, usually 30-40 of them covering all available floorplans. If I’m lucky, I eat lunch during this 20 minute pause. Most days I wasn’t lucky.
1:30pm. Second showing window of the day. Usually another longer tour of vacant units. I preferred to push all showings of occupied units to the end of the day so that I could be sure that the current occupants would be a) at home and b) awake.
4:00pm. Answer any emails, voicemails and texts that came in during the earlier hours of the day. Schedule showings for 2 days out based on the inquiries that have arrived since lunch. Last chance to give notice to occupied units for any showings during the evening tomorrow. This was usually done from my car parked out front of my 5:00pm showing location. Sometimes it would be done at the office if someone was coming in to sign a lease.
5:00pm. Third and final showing window of the day. The latest we can show occupied apartments is 8:00pm. This is the peak showing window during a weekday since it’s after work for people with standard 9 to 5 jobs.
7:00pm. (Optional) If we were shorthanded I would sometimes have to cut the evening window short by two hours to handle a batch of lease signing appointments back at the office.
9:00pm. Back to the office. Process any applications that came in during the day, including background checks. Forward all results to the landlord for final decision on approvals and declines. Write up a list of everything accomplished during the day and document all conversations in a log for accountability. Prep the vacancy list for the next day.
11:00pm. Home to eat a quick dinner and sleep.
A Standard Showing
To prep an apartment I would first have to find parking. Only two of our buildings had parking lots. For the rest I had to park on the street. I would always leave the closest spot to the building empty for the clients and take the next closest one for myself. I would quickly check the front walk and foyer for debris, flyers, menus, etc. I would also take a look at the dumpsters in the alley to make sure they weren’t overflowing, and send off a text to property management if things were looking grim. Occasionally they would ask me to climb into the dumpster and pack it down.
Early in my career I would also go up and open up the front door to the apartment, turn the lights on, open the blinds, turn down any personal photos and hide any personal info that the current occupants might have left lying around as part of prep time. However, my boss kept buying more buildings and not hiring more people so I wound up skipping this part of the prep and doing it instead as the clients walked around the living room during the first few minutes of the showing.
The showing itself is pretty straightforward. If you’ve looked at apartments you’ve been present for this part of the show. It’s basically a brief improv performance with a lot of Q & A.
Shutdown afterwards was a simple reverse of everything I’d done to set the place up. Turn off the lights, close the blinds, restore any personal property that might have been hidden or obscured for privacy. On the way out of occupied apartments I would have to make sure I only locked the same locks that the current occupants use. We left the front doors of vacant units unlocked.
A Standard Lease Signing
Lease signing appointments took about half an hour unless the applicant was an attorney or a law student. Usually the staff member handling the signing would prep their own paperwork, but this took about 2 minutes thanks to macros and pre-printed forms.
I would congratulate the new applicants on passing the background check and share in their excitement a bit. Our apartments were often tenants’ first apartments out of school so it was usually the cause for some celebration.
I would review the move-in policies on the cover letter and then review the lease itself, pointing out important clauses like the late fee, the lease break policy and the pet policy. (Note that this was done across a desk so I would have to be able to read any questioned clauses upside down. Eventually I just memorized where everything was.) I would then permit the applicants to read through all the documentation and disclosures and sign, collect any outstanding fees, issue receipts and stamp my boss’s signature onto the landlord side of the paperwork. The signed documents were then copied once, scanned into the computer, and provided to the new tenants for their files.
At the time Craigslist still allowed unrestricted HTML in their ads. I had designed a selection of templates that our website would spit out, combining flavor text, floorplans and photos into one of six arrangements that could be copied and pasted into the Craigslist text box. The entire process of posting an ad took me less than 10 seconds. Copy, paste, captcha, submit. Flavor text would be pre-generated during the off-season and reused over and over throughout the summer.
Since our buildings were scattered across five main neighborhoods I would rotate locations from day to day throughout the week in order to minimize my time wasted on the road during rush hour. Tuesdays I would be in Lakeview, Wednesdays in Ravenswood, Thursdays in Albany Park, Fridays in Rogers Park, Saturdays in Uptown, Sundays everywhere. Mondays were supposed to be my day off although I would often be on call for emergencies.
I might be called in to assist with the rental of one of my boss’s family members or close friends. This would take some extra time to walk through, photograph and discuss with the friend or relative to learn about what they wanted in a tenant and figure out a list price.
My boss would purchase a new building about once a year. I would need to spend several days measuring floorplans, taking photos and generally meeting the current tenants to find out what things were like in there.
Tenants would often stop me on my way in or out of a building to let me know about broken items. As leasing staff I wasn’t able to handle their calls directly but if I had a moment I would look at the problem and help them draft a maintenance request to send to the work crew.
I would sometimes get called to handle lockouts if I was in the area. I carried a master key to all buildings and tenants had to pay us $35 up front for these service calls so they were always hot tickets when they came in.
Only three of our buildings allowed dogs, but all of them allowed cats. Now and then tenants would ask me to keep an eye on their cats while they were out of town, which I would usually manage to do without much hassle since I was in and out of the buildings anyhow.
During the five years I was working for this company I missed a lot of major events. Weddings, graduations, deaths, funerals. I basically vanished from all social circles from March through October every year.
Leasing has a very high burnout rate with many agents only lasting for a single season. While some companies keep large leasing staffs, the one I worked for only kept me on the payroll and sent anything I couldn’t handle to third party apartment locator services. It was for me a matter of personal pride that I managed to out-rent all 3 of the third party services combined every year, but then I did get first crack at the best units that came up.
I still consider everyone from that company to be a friend. It was a great time in my life that I enjoyed immensely, but it is a job for someone in their twenties and by the time I hit my thirties I couldn’t handle the 112 hour work weeks or the physical strain of all those stairs in the summer heat anymore.
It’s a job I would recommend for energetic but introverted people. Yes, I had to interact with many, many people but those interactions were very brief, no more than 20 minutes at a time, and most of them come to me. There was no cold calling involved. I was rarely at the office at the same time as my coworkers.
However, it was a very physical role. I was shifting your hump up and down 3 flights of stairs multiple times a day. I was on the road constantly. There was no physical labor but there was a lot of movement and a lot of conflict.
I had to deal with angry tenants and their angry dogs. I had to deal with clients from all walks of life in situations where the masks we wear to be socially acceptable were removed. I saw a lot of cockroaches and filthy bathrooms.
If you’re thinking of getting into the property management industry on the leasing side, I hope this gave you some sort of insight into what’s involved. For the rest of you I hope you were amused to learn about the sort of nonsense I got up to in my twenties.
RentConfident is a Chicago startup that provides renters with the in-depth information they need to choose safe apartments. Help us reach more renters! Like, Share and Retweet us!