One of the most challenging things about owning rental property is handling repairs. Sometimes it’s the little things like handling normal wear and tear issues, but other times landlords feel a though they have to cross their fingers and hope their tenants aren't trashing their property. Many owners struggle with this aspect of property management, and some even find their way into bigger trouble than a few nicks and dings on the walls. The way a landlord handles inspections and repairs can make all the difference between preserving wealth and losing a lot of value. We continue the series Professional Property Management: What to Look for in a Property Manager with the latest topic about repairs and inspections.
Repairs and Inspections: What is a reasonable expectation?
The purpose of this post is to enlighten property owners about how property management companies typically handle repairs and inspections, as well as some tips for “best practices” when it comes to doing it yourself.
Below are the main things experienced property managers should do, and DIY property owners should consider regarding property inspections:
- Monthly Drive By's - These are good to have. They give you a regular, albeit superficial, visual cue about the state of the property. You can't make judgements based on landscaping alone, but this is better than having no information about the state of your property. Note: If the property is located within a community governed by an HOA, then you don't need drive by's as the HOA regulates exterior condition.
- Details Matter - How detailed is the move-in inspection and move-out inspection? You need written and detailed record to go along with LOTS of pictures. The move-in and move-out inspections are critical points in the landlord/tenant process. Take the opportunity to capture each and every detail. This is the number one thing that landlords and tenants go to court over.
- Get Interior Inspections - Mid-term interior inspections are good for identifying several Tenant habits that may not be good for your home: Are they smoking in the property? Are their extra people or pets now residing in the house? Do YOUR KEYS still work, or were the locks mysteriously changed? Finally, you will also want to know if your home has been converted into a meth lab, or if there are other drug related things going on within the property. The general condition of the property is important, but remember you won't be able to regulate or do much of anything just because your tenants may be slobs. Build it into your contracts for your tenants to allow you access for routine inspections.
Below are the main things property managers and property owners should should consider regarding property repairs:
- Contractors – Does the property manager use “in-house” contractors only? Regardless of the relationship you or your property manager has with the contractors that do work at your home, make sure you are provided with an itemized bills for materials and labor. A “lump sum” invoice is always a red flag.
- Written agreements about spending caps - For property managers and contractors, It is important to have an agreement with the Landlord (after all it is your money) on a spending limit for repairs. This way expectations are set ahead of time about what the owner is willing to spend without having to be consulted. If the estimate is over, only then would the owner have to be bothered with a phone call or email for approval on the fix. The amount can vary, but $200 is a typical amount. There will be of course some leeway for emergencies or if the landlord is unresponsive, but caps are a good guideline to make sure your wallet is not being emptied without your consent.
- Technology - There are many online tools available today that allow for easy logging of, and viewing of, repair requests, invoices, etc. Savvy property managers will have an online repair request system. Tools like these can make life significantly easier on landlords and tenants, and it provides a “Time/Dated Stamp” of when a request was first reported. This takes the “he-said, she-said” out of repair issues.
- Cash reserves - This is an important point. We've seen property owners bothered for their payment information for every (even minor) repair. Property managers should carry reserve funds that can be used to pay for repairs without having to bother owners for every repair payment. Furthermore, some emergencies need to be tended to immediately, and cannot wait for payment. A good property manager can handle these situations with minimal impact and intrusion to the property owner.
Choosing a Property Management Company
A great property manager can take the inconvenience out of owning property. By handling the inspection and repair process, managers can provide two valuable things to their clients -- money and convenience. By protecting property owners during the inspection process, and shielding them from the hassle of managing tenant repairs, professional property management companies allow property owners to focus on the things that matter most.