Welcome to the next installment of our ongoing series about how you, too, can totally mess up as a landlord!
This time, we’re talking about what might be the second-most annoying part of property management (after going to court): keeping your properties properly maintained and repaired. There sure are a lot of mistakes you can make with the upkeep of your properties.
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4 Common Maintenance & Repair Mistakes Property Managers Make
1. Maintenance Mistake: Not Doing Any Maintenance
Probably the single most commonplace choice made by novice property managers is ignoring anything that isn’t broken. If your tenant calls and says that his heater is making a pinging sound, you ask, “Is it still keeping the house warm?” When they say, “Sure,” you put it on your “To Do… Someday” list and move on. Then when they call back mid-winter, teeth chattering, you curse because you have to spend a couple grand getting a new heater installed in the worst possible set of circumstances.
Don’t be that guy. If you don’t want to deal with maintenance issues personally, hire someone to go deal with them for you — believe us, the cost of regular preventative maintenance hugely undercuts the cost of occasionally replacing an entire mechanism, even if you have to hire a professional to do the maintaining.
2. Maintenance and Repair Mistake: Underestimating Costs
It’s a pretty commonplace practice to budget money every month for repair costs — but even if you do all of your planned preventative maintenance, something will eventually break. When it does, unless you’ve been regularly setting aside money for large-scale repairs in addition to your maintenance budget, you’ll end up taking money out of your pocket (or some other part of the budget) to make up the shortfall.
Those landlords with willpower and foresight will create both “maintenance” and “repair” budgets and use the “repair” budget only for those big emergency items — but as long as you have some plan in place, you’ll be doing better than many.
3. Repair Mistake: Not Monitoring Repairs
It’s one thing to have a maintenance man head to a property and perform basic maintenance. That’s not something that should require you to be there. But if something actually breaks and requires repair, it’s usually a good idea to show up and see the problem firsthand. For one thing, there’s a good chance that the tenant is doing something (or failing to do something) that caused the whatsit to break. For another, it’s a great excuse to get inside and look around and note anything else that might need your attention in the near future.
If you have a lot of properties or they’re not readily accessible, you may consider video monitoring. No, we’re not suggesting to install surveillance cameras! We’re talking about having your handyman & contractors video their work and send the videos to you. If you want to take it to the next level, you can pursue a “before & after” strategy: require they send a video to support their bid, then take a completion video when they’re done.
Even better, if the property is occupied, have an “after” video taken of the tenant acknowledging the repairs, stating their satisfaction and the date. For legal purposes, we also recommend having the tenant state in the video that they are allowing the video to be taken for use as the landlord sees fit.
Finally, if you and your contractors are tech-savvy enough, you could try a video conference via mobile phone or tablet and have them show you a live feed of their repairs. You could even direct them to where you want the camera pointed!
4. Repair Mistake: Not Charging The Tenant (if it’s Their Fault)
We like to use an auto analogy and compare the difference between renting a car and leasing one. If you lease a car, you’re still expected to perform basic maintenance at your cost: change the oil, replace worn tires, replace a broken windshield, etc. Much of this isn’t a concern on a rental car. Now think of the difference between renting a hotel room and leasing a home. Many tenants want to think you’re renting them a hotel room so they don’t have to take any responsibility for that window that somehow was broken!
In short, it’s easy to stumble across evidence that the tenant broke something or caused a problem and then did nothing to fix it… and ignore that evidence. Maybe you’re too busy with other things, maybe you just don’t want the hassle, maybe you like that tenant and you’re afraid you’ll lose them; whatever the reason, don’t make this mistake. Your tenant needs to understand that they are obligated to take care of the property in which they live, even if they don’t own it, and that means owning up to their own mistakes — even (especially!) the expensive ones.
That’s it for now — but keep an eye out; we’ll be back with more classic landlord blunders in the coming weeks!
What are some classic maintenance and repair mistakes you’ve made? What would you add to my list?
Let me know your experiences in the comments section!