You’ve done everything right. You bought a good solid property in a desirable area, hired the best property manager in town, priced it properly, and have terrific tenants in the house. What could possibly go wrong? No matter how well you’ve put the deal together, things are always going to break, fail, or require maintenance.
Property maintenance is a fact of life, and rental properties require more attention since the occupants generally don’t use them as gingerly as they would if they owned the home. Most homeowners don’t realize the number of small things they do throughout the year to maintain their property without even thinking about it. Touch up painting, lubricating locks and hinges, changing filters, and mending fences all fall into that category.
Tenants, on the other hand, are typically discouraged from undertaking property maintenance beyond replacement of consumables such as light bulbs and filters. Why? Because people have widely varying levels of ability and knowledge about how things work and what to do when maintenance is needed. The simple fact is some people have never seen the business end of a paint brush or screwdriver, and turning them loose to do anything more than minor maintenance creates more issues than it solves.
One case that comes to mind involved a tenant who was told to manicure a mature privacy hedge that ran along the property line. He did, and his idea of a “manicure” was to take it down to one foot above ground level. It would take a decade before the hedge was near its former height. Since mature hedges are not available for purchase it was difficult to put a value on the damage, which was mostly aesthetic. As you might imagine though, the landlord was livid. Most people would understand that trimming a six foot, slow growing hedge that aggressively is a bad idea – but this tenant had no clue. He thought it would come back over the course of the growing season and by the time the property manager knew what had happened it was too late.
So what can a landlord and/or property manager do to ensure maintenance is properly done?
- Use licensed, insured contractors
- Be specific about the scope of work
- Obtain an estimate for larger jobs to control costs
- Build relationships with established, reliable vendors
- Don’t focus on getting the lowest price – quality costs less over time
- Get 2+ estimates for large projects to ensure pricing is competitive
Controlling costs and risk reduction are the takeaways from this list. Hiring unlicensed or uninsured contractors is literally an accident waiting to happen. If an uninsured person is injured doing maintenance on your property, YOU will be responsible for their medical expenses and lost wages etc… Saving $100 by having the neighbor’s kid clean your gutters sounds like a great idea until he falls off the ladder and breaks a leg.
Contractors who work on rental property need to be told specifically what they’re being hired to do so there’s no confusion later about the scope of the work. Using property management software or email to interface with the vendor and issue work is one way to ensure the tasks are detailed when work orders are issued. Some jobs require a bit of latitude since the contractor can’t always predict what will be found behind a wall or under a floor when demolition is needed. In those cases however, communication is key to preventing surprises when the invoice arrives.
Controlling costs doesn’t mean getting the lowest bid. Property managers who do a volume of maintenance pay attention to “call backs” where a vendor had to rework a repair or used inferior materials. Getting things done properly the first time and using quality materials will pay dividends in the long run. A person who needs a plumber once a year won’t know who to call or how good their work is. A property manager who issues 5-10 plumbing jobs a week knows who to call for the best service and a fair price.
Property managers at The Real Estate Group work hard to build relationships with competent, reliable vendors so our landlord clients get value for their maintenance dollars. Understanding how things work, what repairs should cost, and who to send is a large part of the value a property manager provides. When things go wrong – and they will – having a solid team managing your real estate assets is invaluable. Let us show you how easy it can be to own investment property.