Typically, when somebody describes a business as being “in the toilet,” they’re delivering bad news. But property management is an industry built on the gritty work of contractors and maintenance technicians, including plumbing repairs. So if you’re a property manager and your company isn’t “in the toilet,” you’re doing something wrong.
The quality of your company depends heavily on the quality of its maintenance effort—if you can’t satisfy a client and their tenants with effective repairs, you’ll lose their business. In other words: a property management company is only as good as its maintenance team. In this article, I’ll go over five practices to ensure that your maintenance branch provides your company with the proper foundation for customer satisfaction and future growth.
One disclaimer before I go any further: I’ve found that a property management company with an in-house maintenance team can do more to benefit its clients than one that hires out all repair work to vendors. My advice in this article takes that as a given. Companies with in-house maintenance have vetted technicians ready to deploy at any given moment, and can guarantee the property owner far more transparency, which I’ll return to later. Now let’s jump in.
This point could be restated as, “Do it right the first time.” A management company’s callback rate tracks how often they have to send their team back to a property to redo a repair they already performed. Making callbacks completely nonexistent is more of an aspiration than a reasonable expectation, because even the best management companies have to send technicians back to properties every once in a while. But in the name of tenant satisfaction and efficient use of your team’s man hours, you should try to keep your callback rate as close to zero as possible.
Seek the Harsh Truth
If you’re afraid to hear what tenants have to say about how they think your maintenance team performed a repair, take that as evidence that you need to hear it. Without feedback from the residents you’re serving at a unit level, you can’t know things like how courteous your technicians are when they interact with tenants or how efficient they are from the time they get to the unit to the time they leave. Send a survey to the tenants of every single unit you make repairs on, no matter how small the fix so you know exactly how well they feel you’ve served them. This helps improve service, and it also lets them know that they have a voice in the process. The positive feedback you receive on repairs will help you learn who the stars of your team are.
Get Licensed as a General Contractor
Here in California, the law requires a general contractor license for any work costing over $500. Some states (like Indiana) don’t require a state license at all, but do have licensing laws at the local level. Research your area’s specific set of ordinances to ensure your maintenance team isn’t performing repairs illegally.
Get Certified by Manufacturers
Many management companies offer warranties on maintenance tasks. For example, on a new roof, a client is going to want a warranty on the entire job. It’s even better for the property manager to be specifically licensed by the manufacturer whose product they’re using. We recently got certified by the brand of silicone coating we use to weatherproof flat roofs; receiving this type of certification shows clients that your maintenance team is so dedicated to thorough work that major manufacturers are willing to vouch for them.
Enact Preventative Maintenance
I’ve briefly touched on the importance of preventative maintenance in previous articles, but now that I’m making maintenance the central topic of this one, I can get into the details with an example. When you sign on a new client and they request preventative maintenance, work with them and show them exactly where you’ll spend the money. For instance, in one specific home, we plan to spend $27.00 re-caulking the base of toilet on the second floor every six months. Why? Because if any gaps open up between the toilet and flooring, water can penetrate the subfloor and wind up damaging drywall downstairs on the first floor. The $27.00 the client spends now will save them hundreds of dollars on the damages that could result from doing nothing. (Alright, I promise that’s the last time I’ll mention toilets in here.)
Specific documentation is another principle I’ve written about before with regards to move in’s and move-out’s, but it applies much more broadly to maintenance. Encourage tenants to file their maintenance requests through your online portal with as much detail as they can include – instead of just reporting a leak, ask that they report what’s leaking and what they think the source might be. Have them take photos and send those too, so that you’re highly prepared and appropriately equipped for the job well in advance. Also, require technicians to take both a wide-shot photo and a zoomed-in one of the issue before and after performing the repair. Your clients want to know what they’re paying for, and the more transparency you can offer them with photo documentation, the better.
Streamlined, thorough, and effective – if these words describe your maintenance work, they’ll likely also describe your property management company. Take these actions to heighten the quality of your maintenance and lift your company as a whole to the next level.
David Crown is the C.E.O. of Los Angeles Property Management Group, and has over twenty-five years of experience managing all types of income properties. A hands-on leader who has managed properties in 16 states, Mr. Crown has been asked to serve as an expert witness in property management matters, and currently serves on the Forbes Real Estate Council. He can be reached directly at (818) 646-8151.