A prospective tenant might very well fall in love with a house or apartment before signing the lease. They may move in as happy as clam. But after a while, that sheen will wear off.
Soon enough, their only experience with their property manager and/or landlord, aside from basic updates, is that once a month you take their money. This, of course, is not the best way to win someone’s heart.
The only other consistent contact you have with a resident is maintenance and it is here where you can make all the difference.
Property Managers Keep Tenants Happy by Resolving Maintenance Issues
The biggest expense that you can control as a landlord and/or property manager is reducing your turnover. Less turnover means less vacancy and fewer turnover expenses. And the most effective way to reduce turnover is to increase your lease renewals.
So, how can you accomplish this? Good customer service. And the very best customer service you can offer a tenant is quality maintenance. Think of your tenants as your clients, and your maintenance as customer service!
Tenant Maintenance Requests
Require that maintenance requests be in writing. If applicable, request that they are sent through your property management system. But at the very least, requests should be made via email. That way, there is no confusion as to what is being requested.
Also, ask for permission to enter to be granted up front. Remember, each state’s laws are different regarding notice of entry. So, talk to an attorney to make sure you are in compliance.
That being said, the one thing I would make sure to avoid is allowing a resident to pick the time or negotiating it in each instance. You will inevitably end up with a lot of work orders that need to be done in the morning, at lunchtime, or right after work. This will 1) be a complete headache to schedule and 2) lead to a lot of downtime if you have a maintenance tech on staff or delays if you are using a contractor.
Emergency Maintenance Requests
You must also make sure to have a system for dealing with emergency maintenance requests. Most notably, a phone number tenants can call.
Now, many such requests can wait. Think about it this way: If a homeowner could not expect a situation to be fixed the same night, a tenant should not either. That said, sometimes you’ll need to have thick skin and be able to say, “Yes, I know it’s hot, but I cannot get someone out to fix the A/C until tomorrow morning.”
Issues that usually require immediate, emergency service are:
- A leak that cannot be stopped by turning off a shutoff valve
- A sewage backup
- No functional toilet
Of course, there are some other emergencies too, but these are the most common. Fortunately, Roto-Rooter or Snake ‘n’ Rooter can handle these issues, so you basically always have someone to call. Unfortunately, neither of those is cheap. If you can find a less expensive alternative, it would be worth it.
Who Should You Hire to Do Maintenance Work?
There are multiple ways to get maintenance done. Which way is best depends greatly on your situation and how you want to approach it. Here are several approaches to ensuring maintenance issues are attended to quickly.
Do It Yourself
If you have just a few rentals and are managing yourself, this is not a bad way to go about it. Indeed, I have a friend who has about 10 rentals and his full-time job is just managing and doing maintenance on them. That being said, you obviously have to be handy and have the time to do this. Time is money after all.
Further, you have to understand there are certain things you cannot do. No one is a quality plumber, electrician, roofer, foundation repair specialist, HVAC technician, etc. all at the same time. So it’s critical to find contractors for tasks you cannot do.
You can also simply have contractors do all of the work instead of just the things you cannot do. This can be a bit tricky though, as few contractors will have much interest in doing small repairs like replacing a worn gasket or a broken storm door. It’s easiest to convince a contractor to do such work if you are also giving them rehab work to do.
Overall, I’m not a huge fan of this option for basic work. Maybe as a stop-gap measure, but not as a long-term solution.
There are also some maintenance companies that do-it-yourself managers can hire for their maintenance needs. They tend to be a bit expensive, but they are definitely an option to consider.
Third-Party Management Companies
If you hire a third-party property management company, they will have maintenance technicians on staff, so those tasks will also be outsourced. Just remember, having a third-party management company does not mean you can just sit back and relax. You still need to manage the manager.
If you are managing yourself, once you have gotten big enough, it’s time to hire your own employees. Take your time when doing so, and make sure to check references carefully. It’s hard to test a maintenance technician’s abilities in a sit-down interview. Develop a series of maintenance-related questions to get an idea of their knowledge instead.
If you already have a maintenance technician on staff who you trust, have the new-hire work with that person for a week or two so you can get your experienced tech’s opinion of them. If they aren’t working out in the beginning, they won’t work out long-term.
Keep in mind that for maintenance, the applicant has to have a clean background check (at least for the last 10 years). Why? Because that person will be going into other people’s homes—often alone—so it’s important that they can be trusted.
So what makes for good maintenance (i.e., good customer service)? Well, we boil it down to a very simple acronym of sorts: Quality PECS.
Someone I know recently asked their management company to fix some kitchen drawers that’s tracks had broken. The “fix” was nothing more than to put the drawers back on the broken tracks. This kind of “quality” is a good way to get your tenant to find a new place to live the moment their lease expires.
And unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon. (Or perhaps, fortunately, as it makes it easier to beat the competition.)
Yes, you need to be price-conscious. Don’t repair a burn mark on a Formica countertop by replacing it with a granite countertop. But every fix must be effective. Follow up with residents after a work order by email or text (or even phone) to make sure they are satisfied. Take any complaints you receive seriously.
P – Professionalism
We make sure our maintenance technicians all wear shirts with our logo on them. Having them drive company vehicles or putting company decals on their vehicles is also a good idea. And stressing the importance of professionalism to anyone who does work for you is critical. No cussing or chewing tobacco or being rude or anything like that.
Remember, maintenance technicians are going into people’s homes. You want those people to be comfortable with them and professionalism is the way to make your residents comfortable.
E – Expectations
Often the quality level is less important than the difference between someone’s expected result and the actual result. As Steve Lynch said, “Unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments.”
Thereby, it’s critical to manage expectations.
We sit our residents down for an hour-long lease signing before they move in. One of the key things we make sure they understand is what we will and will not do as far as maintenance is concerned. For example, we tell them that the property is as-is, and we are not going to upgrade it for them. So if they ask for a screen door to be installed when there wasn’t one, we reference that original conversation and tell them “sorry.”
C – Communication
More often than not, a tenant will not get angry with their landlord if a maintenance project takes longer than expected or goes sideways in some way—IF the landlord or property manager stays in communication with the tenant. Tenants are people, and people want to know that their concerns matter and are being addressed. They want to know you care.
The natural reaction when something isn’t going well is to hide from it. If you don’t have good news for the resident, the temptation is to simply not contact them so you don’t have to hear them get angry at you. This is the exact wrong thing to do. Really, the most important thing they want is to hear from you, even if you have no update to tell them.
So when a project is delayed, we will often tell the resident we will call the next day, even if there is no update, just to make sure they know we are on it. And then we follow through. Tenants (as well as just about anyone) are far more forgiving when you communicate.
S – Speed
Finally, speed is essential, as well. Our goal is to hit every non-emergency maintenance item within 72 business hours. [That night if it’s an emergency (i.e., major leak) and the next day if it’s a minor emergency (say, no heat).]
Now that does not mean the project will be done. Sometimes a project requires two or more visits. For example, patching a hole requires the patch and mud, then you must wait for it to dry before coming back another day to paint. Other times, parts need to be ordered, which will take time. But the goal is to get out to each property within 72 hours. (Note that this is what you should demand of a third-party property manager, as well.)
And, of course, if you cannot make it within 72 hours, then go back to “C”—make sure to communicate.
The Bottom Line
Maintenance often gets lost among the more glamorous topics of acquisition, finance, and rehab. Even with regard to property management, it is often little more than an afterthought. But it isn’t that to tenants. So don’t let it be that to you!
Maintenance is customer service. And good customer service leads to tenant retention, lower costs, higher revenue, and thereby greater profits. Make sure to make maintenance a priority.
Let’s talk below!
Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.