Written by Director of Best Nest Lets, Wendy Whittaker-Large
Are you struggling to fill your rooms after the New Year lull? Have your tenants moved out, leaving your HMO rooms suddenly empty? Or maybe 2020 has brought your tenants new job opportunities in other parts of the country, and you’ve got a whole series of rooms to fill? Or perhaps you’ve been in the HMO game for a while now, but your voids are getting longer, and therefore your profit is slowly dropping?
If that’s you, don’t start panicking. This is the time to take action, re-educate yourself and get a grip by being creative and clever. It’s easy to blame the competition, the economy, Brexit, or other reasons for not filling our rooms. I’ve learnt though that getting out of BED is the best way to avoid that trap. What do I mean?
Getting out of
Facing the facts, dealing with reality and tackling your voids head on. I can assure you that if you do this, you will be ahead of the competition, and you’ll be learning to flex that business muscle that needs tension from time to time to make it stronger!
I’ve got some tips to give you some quick wins and some longer-term strategies that will help you fill your rooms immediately and keep them filled for longer (thus avoiding voids).
1. Review the room. This may sound basic, but a lot of people just think they can re-rent the same room again and again without actually checking the standards of paintwork or overall décor and furnishings. Is the house starting to look a little bit worn? Do some items need replacing? Could it do with a bit of an uplift?
A lot of rooms suffer from a bit of faded glory once they’ve had a tenant living there for a couple of years. Upgrading a wall to a feature wall, adding some new pictures or a large mirror, and re-dressing the room with coordinating soft furnishings (cushions and accessories) could do the trick. Take some brand new photos and get some feedback from others. Why not do a video while you have the chance? Getting a 360̊ view of the room not only helps to sell the room, but also captures the standard that you have achieved.
2. Analyse your advertising. Have you ever asked anyone to be a secret shopper on your website or on your SpareRoom ads? Ask a few friends to pretend to be a tenant looking for a room (they need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of an HMO tenant)! After a few days, go back and ask them what was their experience of trying to book a viewing? What was their experience interacting with your website? Did the advert give them the information they needed? What did they like / not like? What could you change as a result?
Does your advertising follow the four-step AIDA principles?
1) Attention – getting your potential market to take notice of your advert through pictures, a great headline and maybe a special offer
2) Interest – raising your audience’s interest through the logical information you provide, and the response you give to their enquiry
3) Desire – using emotive words and phrases to create desire for living in your accommodation
4) Action – giving your tenant clarity about how to take action to book a viewing or reserve a room.
If your advert is missing one of those steps, you’ll find that people might be interested, they might look at the rooms, they might think your photos are beautiful, but they won’t do what you want them to do: Which is to pick up the phone and text or call you to make a booking.
3. Maximise your organic reach on social media before paying for ads. If you’re on Facebook Marketplace, or Instagram and have a website listed on Google, you can use the power of pixels and organic keywords before you have to pay for advertising. On SpareRoom it can be worthwhile from time to time to boost your advert. But the problem is that it can be very expensive, and it is unpredictable. What tenants are mostly looking for when they come on to any organic post or advert (including SpareRoom) is a fast response time. If you’re responding quickly, and you’re booking in viewings, you will fill your rooms. Good advertising copy is one part of that, but it’s not the only factor. If you’re responding quickly, and you’re booking in viewings, you will fill your rooms.
4. Referrals. Having a referral system for your current tenants is invaluable. By incentivizing your current tenants to find other tenants equally as good as them, you will save time and money and fill your house easily. The problem is the incentive needs to be really good! You know yourself, if you bought something that you thought was really great, such as an amazing product or service, you’ll tell everybody else about it. If your tenants are having a great experience living in one of your houses what could you do to encourage them to share this with their friends too?
5. Partnerships in the community. There will be organisations in your local community who will offer services to your tenant group, with whom you could create a mutually beneficial arrangement. You’re offering accommodation, but are they offering something that tenants might also be interested in? By sharing each other’s services you each benefit from free advertising and additional reach.
6. Sales technique. Whether or not you personally sell your rooms, whoever is actually carrying out the viewing needs to be great at sales. Are people making appointments to come and view but then you’re failing to close the deal? Do people book viewings and turn up, but you never hear from them again? Your ability to close the deal – that is, to get commitment from them there and then is vital to reduce voids.
Don’t be scared to ask people for a down payment in situ to hold the room. It could be that you ask for them to complete an application for plus a payment of £50 which then comes off their deposit. It’s a completely legal way to get somebody to sign and seal the deal there and then, filling one of your rooms, and making their decision much easier. Send a receipt for the amount you have collected, along with any terms and conditions.
I’d love to hear how you get on implementing these tips to help you reduce those voids and fill your rooms – not just for now but forever. There are lots of people looking for rooms so let’s get that message out there to the marketplace!
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