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Residential Roller Coaster: Real Estate & Rental Insight

Whether you’re looking to purchase or rent your next home, the residential market on the Emerald Coast has felt like a roller coaster over the last year or so. We’ve gone down, way up and side to side all while white-knuckling our safety bars trying to hold on tight. Right now it feels like we may hit a steady level patch, but all any one can hear are the clicks of the tracks. Are we—the market rather—going up or down again? How can we brace ourselves for the residential market approaching peak season without being able to predict what will happen? As a Realtor®️ who’s one of the rental liaisons for Realty ONE Group Emerald Coast’s long-term rental branch, ONE Family Property Services (OFPS), I had the great fortune to sit down with one of our property managers, Melissa Raulerson, and glean insight for those preparing to rent or purchase in this summer’s unpredictable, and possibly unstable, housing market.

Being the field director and property manager for OFPS, Melissa handles all sorts of housing issues on a daily basis. She’s also a veteran, current active duty spouse with three kids, and she’s a Crestview resident with a passion for theatre. (When she’s not at the office or in the field catch her performing beautifully on stage!) Mel has first-hand experience and understands the struggle all of us living on the Emerald Coast currently face, so I didn’t shy away from the hard questions. And she didn’t hesitate to answer honestly.

V: “Rental rates continue to rise, and some longtime locals can no longer afford housing. Would you please provide some information on this? Will they continue to rise? Do you all try to curb unreasonable rental rates, or do owners dictate the rates?”

M: “Sadly, this is such a loaded question. Typically, you do not want to raise rent on great tenants. However, insurance rates are through the roof and taxes went up. Most owners have to raise rent. I see it leveling out eventually, but as long as inventory remains low, prices will be driven up.”

V: “That definitely makes sense. Can you give us some more of your insight on the current rental market for prospective renters?”

M: “Prices are higher than normal. Most [tenants] are renting site unseen. If you see a home you like—apply. By the time you try to schedule a showing it will be rented.”

V: “In terms of pricing and budgets, what are your suggestions for renters who are challenged with rising rental prices and inflation increasing in general? Do you allow multiple tenants or subleases to offset costs?” 

M: “Subleasing is not allowed in our rentals nor in most rentals. Renters may need to have a roommate, and all [need to] apply upfront. Also, many [prospective tenants] need to adjust their expectations. I see many want four to five bedroom homes near the beach yet want to pay under $1,500 [monthly]. 

V: “That’s totally fair. Do you have any advice or suggestions to help renters maintain a competitive edge in this market?”

M: “Credit, credit, credit. Keep [your] score above 600, and have a good rental reference.”

V: “That’s super helpful, thank you! Many renters find themselves blindsided by credit score requirements and/or pet policies. Can you elaborate on the OFPS policies? Do you have any advice for renters within this realm?”

M: “We are transparent. Our screening requirements can be found on our website, which includes credit information. [The] pet policy is [included] in the listing. We also know the law when it comes to emotional support animals (ESA), and we convey that to all prospective tenants.”

V: “With your real estate/rental insight and background can you compare what’s going on in each market right now? Is it better to rent, buy or would you say it’s a case-by-case situation?”

M: “If you can buy, now is most def the time. However, if you are military and only here for two years or less—rent. Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) [for military service members] has gone up to help."

V: “Speaking of the military, our area falls subject to some of the same cycles as the military since the Emerald Coast is so heavily populated with service members. We see a lot of moves in the summer time and during winter break that echo the military moving seasons. When would you say are the peak rental seasons, or when are the majority of the leases that you see end? Is there a seasonal rental trend, or is there a time period that potential renters can create a moving timeline around?”

M: “Typically, the ‘slow season’ was September to February. Since COVID-19, we haven't had a break. You still want to stay away from renting homes over the holidays (October through December). Prime rental season is the permanent change of station, or PCS, season, [which is] summer.”

V: “Okay, great! With summer approaching do you expect to onboard many more rentals?” 

M: “We are growing at a tremendous speed. Orders [for military members to move] are dropping left and right!”

V: “Wow, that’s awesome news! Where are the most rentals cropping up? What areas should potential renters be on the lookout for? What areas are you still looking to grow for the program?”

M: “[I know the] most desired areas [for rentals] are Fort Walton Beach and Niceville, [and we have] lots [of rentals] coming [available soon] in Crestview and Navarre. [Our focus is also on growing the program in] Baker and Freeport.

V: “Cool, Crestview and Navarre are two conveniently located places within driving distance to almost anywhere along the Emerald Coast! I know OFPS services the entire Emerald Coast from Pensacola to Panama City Beach, but where are our current rentals that potential renters should keep an eye on? What are the most common property types on the OFPS program?”

M: “[We have currently occupied rentals in] Pace, Milton, Crestview, Niceville, Valpariso, Shalimar, Fort Walton Beach, Destin, Freeport, Navarre, Gulf Breeze [and] Mary Esther. [Our] long term rentals [are mainly] single family resident homes and multi-units.”

V: “Oh wow, I didn’t even realize how expansive our program is. How can people apply to rent?”

M: “They can apply on our website! It is,” 

V: “Thank you, that’s perfect. With so many constant applicants who do you see winning the rentals, and what about them or their process helped them secure the rental?”

M: “We take first full application, first served. Submit all that is required and make sure [you] meet the screening criteria, which can be found on our website.” 

V: “On a more personal note with renters, can you describe your ideal renter?”

M: “[My ideal tenant] is on who doesn’t destroy the home. No, but really. This.”

V: “That’s super understandable, and so true! What is your go-to advice for renters since you’ve seen the worst of it?”

M: “Treat the home as your own. Make it your home. Treat the home the way you would want someone to treat it if they were renting from you. And? Communicate. Communicate with your property manager.”

V: “Great advice, but let’s flip the switch. Why should renters even consider renting with OFPS—what are we doing for them?”

M: “We value our tenants. We have created a more tenant friendly program and try to actually hear and respect our tenants.”

V: “Being a renter myself that’s really refreshing to hear. Too often are tenants treated like a bottom line. In addition to treating renters like human beings, in what other ways are you changing the rental industry?”

M: “By being present. Answering my phone. Communicating. Treating each [person] and home as more than a number. [I’m] someone who serves. There is such a negative connotation attached to property managers. I can see why. I will change that.”

V: “That’s inspiring, thank you. Is bringing change to the industry why you do what you do?”

M: “Even on my worst days I wake up wanting to do it all over again. I truly love it. But, I do it for myself at this point since most [of] my life was devoted to being a military spouse and mom. After that? For my family. So they can have what I didn't [have] growing up and [so we can] make memories.”

V: “Inspirational yet again! Going back to change, I’d love to change topics from tenants to owners. Why should homeowners put their trust in OFPS?”

M: “Our program has taken the not so good [that] we have seen in the industry and created ways to make it good. We listen to our owners. We do not manage our owners. We manage their homes and/or investment properties. We communicate and will work harder for them than any other company will. You can take that to the bank!”

V: “You can bet on that! How would a homeowner go about joining the program?”

M: “They may call or text me at 919-270-0631 [Mel didn’t say this, but I will, between normal business hours central standard time, please!]. We will chat and see if [it’s] a good fit. Then I will schedule an in-person meeting or Zoom if [the homeowners are] not local, and we will review all and answer all the [onboarding] questions.”

V: “Okay, sounds like a rigorous process. Would you share what the property onboarding process looks like? What should owners prep for, and when should owners think about onboarding their property to rent?”

M: “Now. Even if [the homeowners are] leaving at the end of the year. Do the research. Ask all the questions. [In chronological order, the onboarding process includes] meeting with the property manager, reviewing the program and home, signing the [OFPS] property services agreement, having marketing photos taken and working with [me], your property manager, every step of the way. Oh, and clean! Let the property manager use one of our vendors. No, really. We want to turn over a home the way we want it back. Example, I tested out a new cleaner and was not happy with the job. [I] sent the cleaner back. [The clean] still wasn't up to standard. Before I could have her go back we had a showing. The tenants said it was the cleanest rental they had walked in to after viewing dozens. They applied on the spot.”

V: “People need to know that you know what you’re doing! Just like with renters—is there an ideal owner you prefer to work?”

M: “One who trusts my expertise and communicates with me.”

V: “Again, totally fair. Any advice for owners, especially any who are nervous or who may want to be overly involved?”

M: “No one will take care of your home the way you will. Renting is a liability! It is our job to reduce that. But, you need to understand renters can be harder on your home.”

V: “I appreciate you being so upfront and honest—through the rental process as well as throughout this interview. Are there any parting words you’d like to add or anything I haven’t addressed that we should discuss?”

M: “Patience is key. Many vendors are still short staffed. Supplies are short and shipping is taking longer. We can use any vendor, [but] we choose to use good ones. Be patient with repairs as we are all working hard for you. And? If you loosened a towel rack or toilet paper roll--don't call it in. Tighten it yourself. I promise, you can do it. And? We are here to help you!”

While no day as a field director/property manager looks the same, Melissa Raulerson’s seen it all and makes her job seem effortless. I’m so thankful she was able to share her industry insight with me, and I’m hopeful that sharing this helps you! Whether you’re looking to rent or purchase your next home on the Emerald Coast, I’d love to help guide your home journey. Give me shout whenever you’re ready! 

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