Specialty companies make sure owners’ rental properties in tip-top shape

Some people prefer to rent before deciding when and where they want to buy a home, while others simply aren’t ready to take on the commitment that goes with a 15 or 30 year loan. For these reasons–and because the tri-county continues to attract new residents at an ever-increasing rate–the rental market in the Charleston area remains strong.

“We’re seeing a little bit of slowness in the market right now because the prime rental season is May through August and also because of the huge amount of new construction in the area,” says Jeannie Champlin of Oyster Creek Properties.“It will pick up again in April and May.” Champlin, who has been in the business for 22 years, manages around 75 long-term rental properties in Mount Pleasant, downtown Charleston, West Ashley and the beach communities. She says most of her clients live outside the Lowcountry and hire her to handle everything from locating potential tenants, collecting the rent and taking care of repairs and maintenance to bookkeeping and accounting.

Though the collapse of the housing market in 2007 and 2008 was bad news for many people in the Lowcountry, it was a breath of fresh air for the rental market, Champlin remarks. She points out that there was a huge demand for rental property and, as a result, a spike in rental rates because some people had lost their homes and couldn’t purchase new ones.

“We were able to get $400 to $500 more per month, and people were willing to pay it,” she comments.“They still had jobs and money, but they were unable to buy at the time.”

Matt Azar, who has been in the property management business for a decade, is bullish on the Charleston rental market as well. Charleston Home Rentals manages approximately 600 single-family homes, apartments, duplexes, townhouses and condominiums in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties.

“The rental market is very strong and has been for several years,” says Azar.

“The masses moving to Charleston need places to rent before they decide to buy, and millennials prefer to rent. They aren’t interested in owning.”

He says many of his clients are out-of towners who bought property in the Charleston area for investment purposes, while others lived in the Lowcountry and left, in many cases because they accepted a job elsewhere. They might be returning, however. “They became accidental landlords. Maybe they had to move to Atlanta, but they might want to move back, so they rent their home out while they’re gone,” Azar explains.

Gary Rackley, of AAA Property Management, handles residential properties, approximately 35 single-family dwellings in the tri-county area, mostly for out-of-town investors. All his properties are leased for at least a year. His renters include people relocating to the Lowcountry, both military personnel and employees of private companies. He also manages a few properties in downtown Charleston that he rents to college students. “They are a small piece of our business,” he says.

According to Azar, his company’s biggest challenge is to continue to grow while providing its clients with the best service possible. He points out the obvious: the more properties the company manages, the more money the company makes. He adds, however, that“finding good tenants is a challenge. “We want to approve only the most qualified candidates,” he says.“We do a background check, and, if it shows eviction history or a criminal record, we can’t rent to them.” Rackley agrees that finding the right tenants for his clients’ properties can be a challenge. “We have to make sure we are acquiring tenants who are going to respect the property and take proper care of it. We have a rigorous screening process,” he says. Champlin has a similar outlook, citing the biggest hurdles she must overcome as working with different personalities and finding “qualified residents who respect and take care of the property.” Both Champlin and Azar insist that it’s critical for property owners to hire a professional property manager to help find tenants and look after the rental. “Locating a qualified tenant is important,” Champlin says.“It can be very costly if the tenant doesn’t pay his rent on time and the owner has to go through the eviction process. And if the renter causes damage to the property, the owner has to file in small claims court to get reimbursed. This can cause big headaches for me and the property owner.”

Champlin, Azar and Rackley all agree that the future of the rental market in the Charleston area is bright, mostly because they predict people will continue to relocate to the Lowcountry to enjoy the weather and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. “Charleston is a very special place,” Azar says.“The city is so great, and it keeps getting better and will continue to attract more people.”