I have heard many stories of OOS investors having bad experiences with PMs taking advantage of them. Things like charging $500+ for "tune up", replacing windows, etc. when in fact, they didn't even stop by the property. Would it be a bad idea to text tenants anytime there is a "repair" to make sure that everything went ok? Something like "Hi, I heard the ac unit broke down. I am sorry about that. I wanted to make sure everything was fixed and all your needs are taken care of". The only downside I can see is that it may open up a whole new can of worms by them having your number to contact when something minor happens. What do you guys think?
PMs make a living on cutting into landlord profit margins. But, that's what you pay them for. Texting tenants removes the benefit of not being in contact with them in the first place. The last thing you want is tension between the tenant and PM and you being the outlet for relief.
If you have an issue with a PM overcharging, you ought to redefine the scope of the relationship. They will pull charges for service calls, sure, but you should limit the extent and conditions under which a service call is warranted. "Oh no, my lightbulb went out" is just an example. I can imagine some PMs sending their handyman out there and hitting you with a service fee.
That's an obvious example of waste. Another area is the discretion used in conducting a repair/replacement. Often, when's replacement is warranted, the PM will take the liberty to secure a higher end product. This leads to a higher quality of property and a higher standard/frequency of maintenance, whether that is throughout the tenancy or especially at turnover time. Anyways, the major function of the PM is to disconnect you from the tenant, and you would be circumventing that purpose by putting yourself out there as a source of relief.
About 2 years ago I switched my PM because I was not happy with them, the only other one in the area at the time was not the best either but better than the one I had, but I wanted a way to keep an eye on the new PM so I got the emails of each tenant from the 1st PM. I created an email with Google and then sent out a mass email ( all BCC SO NO ONE SEES THE OTHER EMAILS) just explaining that I was the owner and that I will be switching PM companies and if there are any questions or concerns they can reach me at that email, and then just gave them my 1st name. I still have the email set up but no one ever emails me on it any more, this way you do not have to give your phone number out and you still stay anonymous.
If you do not trust your PM, they should not be your PM. We have verbiage in our management agreement about owners talking to tenants. I understand what you are feeling, but I would not go behind the PM's back to follow up on their work. What I recommend is asking the PM for all invoices, asking them to quote the repair first if it is over a certain amount. We also require tenants to do any repairs under $100. It helps with the pointless trips.
You can do a survey on the PM service, that can be an eye opener. I have done a general survey when I had doubts about the PM services. How often have you had contact with the PM, what kind of contact, could you reach them, etc. It is interesting how little contact some tenants have with the PM company. So you aren't really undermining the PM you are just saying how good are we doing? any issues?
I'm with Jessica. I do not permit my owners to contact the tenants directly. It's just one more finger in the pie and almost always leads to confusion and trouble. Either find a PM you can trust or manage them yourself; don't try both.