We get a lot of questions here at Second Nature about the ideal tenant move-in checklist. After all, whether you're new to the realm of property management or a seasoned expert, one common goal unites us all: creating an excellent resident experience.
The move-in process marks the beginning of your resident’s journey, and it's an opportunity to make a great first impression. A well-crafted resident move-in checklist can make this process smooth, efficient, and stress-free for all parties involved.
In this article, we're talking to a leader in the single-family rental property management space to help us delve into the essentials of a resident move-in checklist, its benefits, and how it can enhance the overall resident move-in experience.
Let's dive in and discover how a simple checklist can streamline your move-ins.
Interested in reading more about resident experience management? Read our 2023 State of Resident Experience Report.
Meet the Expert: Janet Sprissler, Broker/Owner, Rent 805
Janet Sprissler has over 20 years of experience in property management and a philosophy of working with residents to bring them value and help communities thrive while providing investors with a positive net operating income. She started her career in Los Angeles with 24 units and grew to a multi-family fixer for over 400-unit buildings throughout Ventura, Los Angeles, and Orange Counties. Janet left multifamily to consult with single-family residential managers to bring her problem-solving philosophy to life. Starting Rent 805 has been a lifelong dream of hers to bring investments, housing, and a positive impact in the property management community.
Janet also received the 2023 Triple Win Property Management Award for Leadership in Resident Experience.
What is a Tenant Move-In Checklist?
A tenant move-in checklist is a detailed document that records the condition of a rental property at the time a resident moves in, serving as an essential tool to prevent potential disputes over property damage during the lease period. Some consider this a landlord-tenant agreement but can be between property managers and residents, as well.
This checklist is a lifeline for both property managers and new residents. From the state of the kitchen appliances to the condition of the flooring, this checklist serves as a comprehensive record of the property's state.
Other names for the checklist could include:
- Move-in move-out checklist
- Inspection checklist
- Tenant walkthrough checklist
- Rental inspection checklist
- Move-in inspection checklist
- Move-out inspection checklist
- Rental walkthrough checklist
Think of it as a snapshot in time, providing a clear reference point for both parties. It's not just a piece of paper; it's a roadmap to a smooth tenancy for everyone involved. Now, that's a win-win!
Note on Language: At Second Nature, we like to say “resident” rather than “tenant,” but will use the terms interchangeably since many property managers have official terminology around these checklists.
Benefits of Using a Move-In Checklist
Using a well-crafted checklist has far-reaching benefits for property owners, property managers, and property residents. We’re breaking down the benefits based on each of these perspectives.
Benefits for Property Owners
- Protection of Property: A move-in checklist includes a detailed property inspection, protecting owners from damage disputes at the end of a lease.
- Compliance with Local Laws: Some jurisdictions require move-in checklists for legal protection.
- Maintenance Tracking: Early identification of maintenance issues can help property owners address them proactively.
Benefits for Property Managers
- Streamlined Process: A move-in checklist provides a clear process, helping property managers to stay organized and ensure all essential tasks are completed.
- Improved Communication: A checklist sets clear expectations for the move-in process, promoting transparency and minimizing misunderstandings with residents for the lease agreement.
- Property Protection: By signing off on a detailed checklist, property managers ensure their good work is documented and any issues can be clearly identified as resident responsibility. This is critical when it comes to the security deposit if there is damage.
- Increased Efficiency: Using a checklist can speed up the move-in process, maintenance before move-in, etc., saving property managers valuable time.
Benefits for Residents
- Clarity and Transparency: A checklist provides residents with clear expectations of what the move-in process involves and their responsibilities. You will have a document of pre-existing damage and know what repairs are needed, plus what’s just normal wear and tear.
- Peace of Mind: A detailed property inspection at move-in provides a record of the property's condition, protecting residents from unjust damage claims. It also helps them ensure any open issues are repaired.
- Smooth Transition: A well-organized move-in process can ease the stress of moving, enhancing the resident’s initial experience and ensuring they move into a space that’s ready for safe living.
What should be on a Move-In Checklist?
With those benefits, it’s clear that having a move-in checklist is critical for any property manager. Some states require property owners to provide new residents with a renter move-in checklist.
So, what should you include? Is anything optional? While legally, you may have some leeway, Janet Sprissler says that if you want to truly focus on the best experience, nothing is optional.
“Everything with us is a must,” Sprissler says. “That’s why it’s a checklist, you have to check everything off. I don’t have any nice-to-haves on my checklist because everyone is treated the same. We don’t do for one new resident what we won’t do for the other.”
Here are the primary things that property managers include in a move-in checklist. Depending on your type of property, real estate investor preferences, and location, this list may change slightly.
A comprehensive resident move-in checklist should include:
- Details of the Resident and Landlord/Property Manager: Full names, addresses, and contact information.
- Property Details: Full address of the property, the date of the inspection, and the move-in date.
- Room-by-Room Assessment: This is the bulk of the checklist. An evaluation of each room's condition, including walls, flooring, windows, countertops, faucets, doors, light fixtures, and any furniture or appliances. This should include specifics like paint condition, carpet stains, appliance functionality, etc. Note if anything needs repair, updates, etc. Include all rooms, such as: Living Room, Dining Room, Kitchen, Bedroom(s), Bathroom(s), Laundry Room, etc.
- Exterior Assessment: Notes on the condition of the property exterior, including yard, light fixtures, fencing, roof, gutters, and driveway. Note if anything needs repair, updates, etc.
- Utilities: Information about the functionality of utilities such as electricity, water, gas, heating/cooling systems, and internet. You can also include information about a move-in concierge in a Resident Benefits Package through Second Nature.
- Safety Features: Status of smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, locks, and any security systems. Note if anything needs repair, updates, etc.
- Signatures: Both the resident and property manager should sign and date the document to confirm their agreement on the property’s initial condition.
- Photographs: Include clear photos of each room and any existing damages to provide a visual record and clarify any potential disputes.
Remember, this is a basic checklist, and depending on the property type and local landlord-tenant laws, there may be additional items to include.
How to Optimize Resident Move-in Experience
A checklist is the foundation of a wonderful move-in experience. But it’s just the starting point. How does a property management company set itself apart from others in the move-in experience?
Here’s where we went to Janet Sprissler and others in our Triple Win Property Managers community for input.
Use the Right Tools
It’s easy to forget a step if you don’t have tools that help automate your process and keep your whole team on the same page.
The most important thing? “You don’t forget a step!” Sprissler says.
“Without a checklist, you’re pretty much setting yourself up to fail,” she continues. “You will drop things, things will be missed, they’ll move in, and there’s going to be a problem. When you set the tone that ‘this is going to be a hot mess,’ you’re setting yourself up to have disgruntled residents, and disgruntled residents never take care of the property well.”
Sprissler especially recommends Monday.com for tracking the checklist and process with your internal team and tools like Tenant Turner to help on the resident side. They use zInspector to ensure they are on top of property inspections.
“I’m not big on a bunch of papers around,” she says. “I want to see it all automated, I want any of my team members to be able to dive into Monday.com and see what’s missing or needed right away. That system runs so much, I’m a huge fan of it.”
Treat all Residents with Equal Care
Sprissler says focusing on making residents feel that “WOW!” is critical to their longevity and care for the property.
At her company, they focus on seamless processes, transparent communication, and even gifts! The key is that every resident gets that same treatment.
“New residents MUST have a move-in gift,” Sprissler says. “They must all get the procedures we’ve set ahead of time. They must receive their birthday gift, they must receive access to our First of the Month Club. We do a move-in concierge through Second Nature – they must have that touch point. We don’t ever say, ‘Hey, this is going to happen,’ and then it doesn’t happen.”
Design the Ideal Move-in Process
We asked Sprissler how they create an ideal resident experience throughout the move-in process, and this was her top recommendation.
“We make it seamless. SEAM. LESS,” she said for emphasis! “On the move-in side, our new residents go through Tenant Turner to get onto the property with an access code. Move in and move out is on Tenant Turner. We make it very simple for them to get access to the property. We don’t play around with it.”
“At every stage of the process, prospective and new residents have had conversations with us so that they’re set up, and they know what’s going to happen next.”
For Sprissler, it’s about thoughtful touches that give residents a sense of a VIP experience. “For example, people get hungry!” Sprissler says. “We have pizzas delivered on a moving day. One of our move-in questions is ‘What’s your favorite pizza?’”
Be Willing to Go Above and Beyond
Added touches – like the pizza on move-in day – go a long way to establishing the best resident experience and behavior.
“When tenants have those touches, it makes life better. It just does,” Sprissler says.
They provide birthday gifts and move-in gifts and will add items for pets or children customized to those residents.
“People often say, ‘How are you recouping that?’” Sprissler says. “I’m recouping that by having great units when I walk through the door. You cannot pay someone to take care of a unit. But if they feel the worth of themselves and how you feel about them, they take great care of the unit.”
Provide a Move-In Concierge
Second Nature includes a move-in concierge as part of the Resident Benefit Program.
Sprissler says this is one of the best parts of a seamless move-in.
“We use a move-in concierge through Second Nature,” Sprissler says. “People really like it when they’re being reached out to, and all of that is handled. Moving is one of the top five stressors people experience in life. You have to realize as a property manager that you have to take some of that pressure off them. Take it off their plate! Are you making a better experience by piling stuff up on them?”
“When people come into my office and say this is the best experience I’ve ever had, I know we’ve done our job,” Sprissler says.
Provide a Renter’s Insurance Program
Making sure that residents have insurance coverage from day one is key. You never know when something could happen, and protecting residents is the foundation of a good experience.
Second Nature’s RBP includes a renter’s insurance program that has 100% compliance across its use. Sprissler is one of the people who use this program, and she says it’s critical to have for her residents.
Set Clear Expectations and Incorporate Incentive Fees
Sprissler recommends requesting a tenant ledger so you have the clearest information about the resident before move-in.
“You can see if they’ve been charged for maintenance requests, you can see what day they pay – it really is a black and white of how they treated that previous unit,” she says.
And then, of course, that clarity should be reciprocated. Sprissler emphasizes transparency upfront and excellent follow-through. Be clear, but also show that you are willing to listen.
“Say what you mean and mean what you say,” Sprissler says. “I have Rent 805 rules and regulations, and any delinquency is heavily fined. Those are behavioral fees. For example, my late fee is very high, but then it’s also part of my resident benefit package to forgo that one time during the life of the tenant being in the unit. It just sets expectations.”
“If you use good software that does a good job of screening, these questions are all resolved for you.”
Remember, a move-in checklist is not just a document; it's a tool to enhance communication, establish expectations, and create a positive resident experience.
Our top recommendation for ensuring a world-class resident experience is to build a resident benefits program. Second Nature has pioneered the only fully managed Resident Benefits Package for single-family property managers.
Learn more about resident experience management in our State of Resident Experience Report, or explore the benefits of a Resident Benefits Package.