Are You A Foreign Service Officer Who Needs Help Finding A Residential Property Management Company In Northern Virginia?
If you are a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) interested in hiring a qualified and professional property management company in Northern Virginia, NOVA NARPM is your best resource. In the Northern Virginia rental market, finding the best professional property management for Foreign Service homeowners is relatively easy when you know what to look for. When a Foreign Service Officer has to relocate overseas, they often need to locate a property management firm quickly. In particular, they need a firm that specializes in residential property management and has the infrastructure in place to manage multiple properties at a high level, while still staying connected to the local community. To help provide Foreign Services Officers with the information they need and as part of NOVA NARPM’s informational spotlight series, we recently interviewed David Norod of WJD Management in Fairfax Virginia to help Northern Virginia Foreign Service Officers become better educated about how to find a qualified, professional property management company.
WJD Management’s advice to FSO’s is a great resource because they have been providing residential property management solutions to the Northern Virginia area for over 20 years, and nearly 68 percent of their clientele are Foreign Service Officers. They maintain a core mission centered on being the only local firm that does not have a real estate sales arm. Norod tells NOVA NARM, “The most important question that a Foreign Service Officer should consider when hiring a firm is whether the real expertise and focus of a given property management firm is on management or on sales. The answer to this question is usually a pretty precise indicator of the quality of the service you will receive.”
This kind of market insight is what we want to share with Foreign Service Officers to help provide the information needed to make an educated decision when choosing a property management company. In his recent interview with NOVA NARPM, Norod offers tips on what FSO’s should expect from a property management company in terms of communication and what other criteria to look for in that decision making process.
NOVA NARPM: How is property management for Foreign Service Officers and families different?
David Norod: By definition, people in the Foreign Service don’t live here so if they’ve made the decision to hire professional property management, they want to hire the best. There really isn’t a lot of difference between a Foreign Service homeowner and any other absentee homeowner, but there are definitely some very different considerations in terms of expectations, with communication being paramount. You know, if they’re on the other side of the globe they may barely have internet access at times and for that reason need to have access to information about their home 24/7. So they’re probably going to be very dependent on electronic communication. A firm like ours who uses proprietary software have probably developed a web-based owner portal with these particular scenarios in mind. Further, property managers need to be able to submit rental proceeds to these FSO clients electronically rather than printing a check, mailing it to an overseas postbox and hoping that it gets there. Email and a state-of-the-art web portal provides instant and ongoing communication with Foreign Service Officers (and any absentee homeowner for that matter) who wants to know what’s going on with their property. If we have to list their home for rent, naturally they will want to know how that’s going. If a tenant is found, they want to know about that. If something breaks, they want to make sure that it’s taken care of quickly, properly, how much it costs and so on.
NN: Foreign Service Officers are often called upon to serve overseas, sometimes with limited notice. How can a Foreign Service Officer faithfully find a reputable property management company quickly in these circumstances? What key things should they look for?
DN: Interestingly enough, about 68 percent of our clients are in the Foreign Service and the overwhelming majority of them we’ve never met. Out of that whole group we’ve met maybe fifteen and that’s because what happens is there’s some kind of emergency in the middle of the night and they start doing their research. A lot of property managers like us get in the office the next day and there’s an email, you know, someone on the other side of the globe that’s really upset because their tenant just packed up and left, or they broke something and the place flooded, or you know, some kind of an emergency. That’s how many of us are introduced to Foreign Service Officers (and the majority of absentee clients as well). What I assume they have done in a panic is just hit the internet and started searching. At this point they are probably reading reviews and if they’ve read reviews, and hopefully they have, they’re going to find some negative reviews just about everywhere. Usually they’re from disgruntled tenants that either did something they shouldn’t have done or failed to do something they should have done and as a result didn’t get their full security deposit back. From there they often post a rant claiming that the property management company stole their money and on and on. However, a savvy client is going to see that and understand that the property management firm is looking out for the homeowner’s best interests.
NN: Why should Foreign Service Officers hire a professional property management company? What kind of questions should they ask a property management firm?
DN: Well, if they have an emergency and that’s why they’ve called or emailed, they’re probably going to want to know how the firm handles emergencies! Any good firm will have a 24-hour hotline that tenants can call. A really good firm however will connect tenants to a live property manager who is on-call and will answer the call 24/7. Having said that, the firm’s Tenant Handbook (assuming they have one) should very clearly define what constitutes an emergency because many of the calls that we receive are not legitimate emergencies as per our Handbook. But, in the event of a real emergency, the firm should be equipped to respond immediately, even at 3 a.m. Other things FSO’s should ask are about communication methods (like we talked about before) because again, they may not be able to get phone calls and have to depend on email communication. They should also inquire about tenant screening methods, especially if their tenant just bailed. And most importantly, how will their money be handled, hopefully with sophisticated software of some kind.
NN: There are a number of property management firms in Northern Virginia that offer services for Foreign Service officials, military and government, and to a consumer it may be hard to identify the differences by just reading reviews. What else can they look for?
DN: That’s a great question. They’ll notice that the fees are pretty much the same for all the companies and their websites all make essentially the same claims. The main difference is real estate sales. Does the property management firm have a real estate sales arm? And that’s the thing. WJD, for example, does not sell real estate and that’s really our only difference, but it’s a big one. Most property management firms engage in real estate sales and that can create certain conflicts of interest and issues that a potential client just may not want to deal with or may not understand when hiring a property management firm.
NN: What should a Foreign Service Officer know about getting their property prepared for rental?
DD: Well, there are three typical scenarios for Foreign Service Officers who have decided to hire professional property management. One is that something really bad has happened to their home and they need the property management firm to put it back together, like there was flood, or a fire, or a tree fell on their house or something like that. So scenario one, we have to fix the house. Scenario two is they’ve got a tenant who just decided to buy a house and said ‘we’re leaving’ and they’re gone. And so there’s no more rental income, so we have to get in there and make the place ready for marketing. The third scenario is they have a tenant who can’t pay the rent anymore for whatever reason; maybe they lost their job, or their wife just left them or whatever, but they refuse to leave and have to be evicted. So that process has to be initiated. Overall, the property management company will make some judgement calls and recommend to the homeowner what needs to be done to the property to get it ready for rental, whether that be paint, flooring, appliances, etc. The ultimate goal is to restore or initiate an income stream as quickly as possible. If the FSO is still living in the property then the property management company should give them a checklist of all the things they must accomplish before their home can be put on the market for rent.
NN: Are there specific property management legalities in Northern Virginia that Foreign Service Officers should be aware of?
DD: Mainly they need to understand the standard fair housing guidelines. Protected classes vary according to jurisdictions and property managers have to abide by it. If the homeowner gets a little bit in the woods, like for example they only want to rent to families, well, sorry but fair housing says you can’t exclude qualified tenants who may not fit that criteria. For example, three unrelated adults may be completely qualified to rent according to the property management company’s universally applied criteria so they’re going to have to take them because there’s absolutely no legal way to not take them. Sometimes a property management firm has to guide an owner in these scenarios. And having a great tenant screening process is really helpful too, usually centered on the prospective tenant’s debt-to-income ratio but also on their landlord’s reference if they are currently renting. You need reliable indicators of credit worthiness.
NN: Are there any special tax implications of owning a rental property?
DN: Well, I’m assuming the Foreign Service Officer already owns the rental property here, so they know that they’ve turned what was probably their residence, their personal home into a business. So, it’s just like any other business, there’s profit and loss, and the cool thing is that practically every penny we spend on their behalf including the cost of the management fee, or leasing fee, or lease extension fee is all deductible. Again, the key thing is as soon as you hire us, you’ve turned your house into a business. It has to be approached in that manner. Some people have a hard time, like if they’ve literally just been transferred to Zimbabwe or wherever, and suddenly they’ve got a situation which makes them realize they can’t manage the property on their own. When they hire us there’s a good chance that they’re still probably quite emotionally tied to that place and are going to find it difficult to make sound business decisions. That’s where a good property management firm will guide them through the various issues they’ll be confronted with and give them sound advice along the way.
NN: Foreign Service Officers are usually pretty busy when on tour overseas? How does tenant screening work within these constraints?
DN: Well, the Foreign Service Officer is going to rely on the firm to do the necessary due diligence. The property manager is basically, legally their agent. When they sign a management agreement they’ve created legal agency and with that comes a number of rights and responsibilities. The firm signs leases on their behalf, offers their property for rent in the local MRIS database and performs various other administrative tasks for them. When we receive a rental application, they’re going to rely on us to process it thoroughly. And when the homeowner is contacted after an application has been reviewed, the IRS requires that they be actively involved in the decision making. In other words, there’s a degree of participation that is required, but it is of course based on our recommendations. We will advise the homeowner to either accept, accept under certain conditions or decline an application. The client makes the final decision though not the property management firm, but they absolutely rely on us for recommendations.
WJD Management has been serving the Northern Virginia market for over 20 years and specializes in residential property management. To learn more about them visit www.wjdpm.com and find them on Facebook at @wjdmanagement. To connect with NOVA NARPM on Facebook, find us at @NOVANARPM