The rise of the gig economy and freelance work has been one of the most significant trends in the labor market in recent years. With the advent of online platforms that connect freelancers or gig workers (think DoorDash, Uber, Instacart, etc.) with clients, millions of people now work independently. In fact, freelance and gig workers are expected to make up over half of the American workforce by 2027. In the rental market, this shift has presented new challenges, but also many new opportunities, for owners and operators who look to cater to gig workers and freelance renters as part of their business plan.
Freelancers and gig workers: Unique renters
Since freelancers and gig workers are typically classified as “independent contractors,” they require unique support from property managers, who must implement new processes for qualifying these renters who have “nonstandard” income streams.
A freelancer is a self-employed individual who offers their services to clients on a project-by-project basis, without being tied to a specific employer. They work independently and are responsible for finding their own clients, negotiating contracts, and managing their own workload. Freelancers can offer a wide range of services, from writing and graphic design to web development, accounting, and consulting, and may have both long- and short-term clients.
Some freelancers lean toward shorter term “gig work” through marketplaces such as Fiverr and Upwork. Other gig workers do most of their work through well-known gig economy companies like Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and TaskRabbit, although gig workers can be found in many industries, including graphic design, programming services, home cleaning, and pet-sitting.
The gig economy seems to be here to stay, so landlords, owners, and property managers are developing new and innovative methods of working with freelancers and gig workers to qualify this growing market of renters.
The challenges of renting to freelancers and gig workers
Unlike traditional employees, who have a steady income and can provide pay stubs for employment verification, freelancers and gig workers often have irregular or seasonal income streams and may not be able to show proof of income in a traditional sense. This can make it difficult for property managers to evaluate their financial stability and creditworthiness.
Parts of the gig economy are more seasonal (i.e. freelance photographers whose primary business is made up of graduation photo or wedding photo gigs). Additionally, freelancers’ income tends to be made up of projects of varying sizes and deadlines - meaning that while their taxes may show sufficient yearly income for your rental, their monthly income may vary widely.
Variance in the timing of payments and expenses for gigs and projects may lead freelancers - especially those who are early in their careers - to have difficulty putting together the liquid cash for a large security deposit.
How to safely qualify freelancers and gig workers for your rental properties
While it has been difficult to qualify freelancers and gig economy workers in the past, property managers now have access to tools that allow them to cater to this unique demographic, creatively and safely:
Alternative income verification methods
Typically, freelancer proof of income can be obtained through 1099s, invoices, and/or tax returns in place of pay stubs. Gig workers’ income can often be verified through the professional gig economy marketplaces that connect them to their clients.
Security deposit alternatives
Security deposit alternatives are popular with renters like freelance and gig workers who may prefer an alternative to the liquid cash required for a traditional security deposit. They’re also popular with landlords and property managers, who appreciate the protection and flexibility they provide. Deposit Coverage from TheGuarantors reduces move-in costs for renters with a low-cost alternative to a traditional cash deposit, while giving landlords the protection from damages that they want and need. Plus, it allows you to market your community as "deposit-free".
Additional lease security
Lease guarantees and related rent coverage insurance products are a secure way to qualify freelancers and gig workers by providing a surety bond, paid for by the renter, that acts as insurance to protect the landlord’s rental income in the event of default. With Rent Coverage from TheGuarantors, we will act as the applicant's cosigner, using AI-based underwriting that predicts renter default with 85% accuracy. This gives the renter access to their dream home, while securing your rent roll against default, vacancies, lease breaks, holdovers, and more.
What do freelancers and gig workers want in a rental property?
The rise of the gig economy and freelance work, combined with the work-from-home migration that began during the pandemic, has led to a corresponding surge in demand for flexible “at home” workspaces. As a property owner or manager, you have the opportunity to attract and retain this growing segment of renters by making your property more freelance-friendly. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular rental amenities and options for freelance and gig economy workers:
Flexible leasing options
Because of the nature of their work, freelancers often prefer short-term leases or month-to-month agreements (even if that means a higher monthly rent cost), rather than long-term leases. By offering flexible leasing options, you can make it easier for freelancers to rent space and attract a new wave of renters, who may be willing to pay even higher monthly rent for the convenience of month-to-month leasing.
Excellent high-speed internet
High-speed internet has long been a top-demand of high-quality renters. Freelancers rely heavily on fast, reliable internet connections to do their work. Make sure your property has high-speed internet access and provide options for both wired and wireless connections.
Common area internet access
It’s also important to ensure that common spaces in your property are outfitted with high-speed internet, and with comfortable places to sit and work. If your prospective freelance renters know they’ll have direct access to high-quality internet even outside of their apartment, they’ll be even more encouraged to rent from you.
Freelancers often work from home, and many of them report that having a pet decreases their work stress. Overall, having a policy that welcomes pets doubles your pool of potential renters - and it’s specifically crucial if you’re trying to attract freelance renters.
Collaborative and coworking spaces
Spaces that encourage interaction and networking, such as shared work areas, communal whiteboards, conference rooms, and event spaces are popular with freelancers, many of whom connect and work with other freelancers as a regular part of their business. If you don’t have a coworking space available at your property, you can highlight nearby coworking spaces - and coffee shops - that are easily accessible from your property as a selling point to freelance renters.
A thriving freelancer community
For freelancers who may otherwise work alone, a sense of community can be invaluable. As a property manager, there are several ways you can foster a sense of community that will attract and retain great residents. Running some freelancer-specific events like “networking happy hours” or even a hosting a “workshop series” for freelancers will help them feel welcomed and connected to the community at your property.
A trusted vendor list tailored to freelancers
Chances are, your property already has a shortlist of trusted vendors that you could recommend to your residents. As you continue to build that list, consider adding resources specific to freelancers, or that freelancers might want to access. If living at your property offers residents a connection with a vendor who offers them a discount on accounting services, for example, that’s a small step that might be very popular in attracting more freelance renters.
Qualify more freelancers and gig workers to grow your rental business
The freelance and gig economies have been growing steadily for years. Considering that most experts estimate these workers will soon make up half the workforce, it’s important for property managers to begin implementing the proper changes to attract, qualify, and retain this rental demographic now.
To take advantage of the growing demographic of freelance renters, it’s important to reconsider the rental amenities you offer, and more importantly, rethink how you qualify candidates. With the right tools and partner, it’s possible to overcome the initial challenges of qualifying these potential renters, mitigate your risk as a property manager, and secure a large new pool of renters from a steadily growing demographic.
Feel free to reach out to TheGuarantors if you have more questions or would like to explore how you can open more doors for freelance and gig economy workers with our industry-leading insurance products that will help secure your rent roll.