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Tenants, Toilets & Termites... Oh My!: Property Maintenance

Chris Claflin - Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Preventative maintenance is all about the regular tasks that all property managers or property owners need to be doing to protect their investment. There are certain items that everyone needs to be aware of. In this episode of the Investment Property Geeks of Charlotte, hosts Chris Claflin and Jesse Mancuso also cover emergency maintenance and big projects and remodeling. Be sure to listen to the podcast on your preferred platform. Like and share the podcast with anyone you know who may benefit from these insights!

If you’ve been managing properties for a while, you know the basic kinds of maintenance that you need to do. There are also a lot of surprises along the way. There’s a ton of benefit in shared experiences, which we’ll dive into here.

Preventative Maintenance for Investment Properties

Preventative maintenance is enormously important. These are ongoing tasks that are almost always part of managing a property. Others are more discretionary, that may vary and be performed on a case by case basis. Remember that you can determine the specific maintenance tasks needed on a specific home when you do your regular walk through (hope you caught that episode!).

HVAC Maintenance

The number one thing we are going to talk about is HVAC. Believe it or not, this is one of the highest priorities for investment properties. It is a very expensive repair or replacement. The expense of that can be mitigated with routine maintenance.

There is some regionality associated with this. For some areas of the country, even expensive homes don’t have air conditioning. In Charlotte, every home has air conditioning. When Sunnon Property Management started, we were strongly advised to have protocol in place for HVAC maintenance. Condensation drips into a tray as the HVAC systems works. As many as several gallons of water a day can flow through this system. If the drain gets clogged, major problems can occur.

If the HVAC unit is in the attic, that liquid can drip onto the ceiling and cause major damage. Preventative HVAC maintenance is a couple hundred dollars a couple times a year. Repairing HVAC damage or breakdowns can amount to several thousands of dollars and probably an emergency situation. A little money on preventative maintenance now saves a lot of money in the long run.

Air Filters

Regularly changing air filters is a simple step that has huge potential to extend the life of an HVAC system. Often, this is the tenant’s responsibility. However, unless you have a solid system for enforcement or even just shipping air filters directly to the tenant, it won’t happen. There are some simple subscription systems you can sign up for and have air filters drop shipped quarterly to the property.

You can sell this to your tenants by reminding them that it can lower their power bill. It’s an easy fix. But remember: the easy thing to do is also the easy thing not to do. Sometimes we talk about the fees paid to a property management company. Keep in mind that just small points of accountability (like whether air filters are changed) can save thousands. Preventative maintenance is hard to do but vital to protect your investment.

Rain Gutters

Rain gutters are easy to ignore but super important. Rain gutters need to be thoroughly cleaned. Remember that water damage is the number one enemy of an investment property. It can be the most expensive and do the most extensive damage. Whether it’s from a burst pipe or clogged rain gutters, leaking water or dripping water can have catastrophic effects.

If a rain gutter is clogged, it will have to get out somehow. It can come down on the siding, seep into a crawlspace or find other exit points that lead to rot and decay. Especially if the property is in a wooded area, you need to schedule regular rain gutter maintenance.

Dryer Vents

Dirty dryer vents can cause fires. It’s recommended that this gets cleaned once a year. Many people don’t clean dryer vents at all. There are two reasons that should encourage you to get dryer vents clean:

  1. You obviously don’t want a fire.

  2. More likely, a dirty dryer vent will damage the dryer.

In one instance, Chris oversaw a property with a brand new Samsung dryer. They moved into the house without getting the dryer vent clean. As soon as they did, they realized that the heating element in the dryer had gone bad. Within a year and a half, the brand new dryer had burned out because of a dirty dryer vent.

In another instance, Jesse had moved into a rental property and the dryer vent hadn’t cleaned out. It was taking well over an hour to dry a load of laundry. Because of that, the whole dryer had to be replaced.

Yard Maintenance

Many times, a property owner won’t provide yard maintenance. If you want to do some basics, you can provide aerating and seeding in the fall or bush trimming. In a single family home rental, yard maintenance is usually up to the tenant. If there is an eye to selling in the near future or keeping it manicured at a certain level, it may be worthwhile to make that investment.

Note that it’s rare that you’ll recover the actual costs of yard maintenance in the form of increased rent or billing the tenant. But keep in mind that if you have to re-grow grass from scratch or recover well-kept landscaping, it will cost a lot in time and effort after a tenant moves out.

Pest Control

Depending on where you live, this could be a major issue. First, all tenants should move into a pest-free home. After they’ve moved in, they’re responsible for basic, non-disruptive household bugs. If it’s a rodent issue or an infestation, that’s probably the landlord's responsibility. If you can somehow determine that the tenant is causing the issue (by leaving out food or living in filth), then it may be back-billed to the tenant. Most of the time, landlords won’t pay for pest control.

Termites

Start with an inspection. All property owners should know if there has been a history of pests. Basic termite treatment is fairly inexpensive. It’s rare that major termite problems will occur. However if they do, and they go undetected for a long time, it will require an investment to deal with it properly.

Pool and Hot Tub

In general, our advice is, “don’t have a hot tub.” If you have a hot tub, Facebook Marketplace is your friend and that’s where it should go. It’s an upkeep nightmare and drowning hazard. You won’t get enough increase in rent to make it worth your while.

For a pool, you don’t want to leave it up to the tenant to maintain. You won’t risk as much expensive damage if you just hire a pool maintenance company.

Water Heaters

Most people don’t do this. You are supposed to flush most water heaters. In water heaters, sediment builds up over time and erodes the tank itself. This should be flushed out to reduce debris and extend the life of your unit.

If you try to claim on a manufacturer warranty, you may actually be asked about having regularly flushed the water heater. 

Walk Throughs: Tightening

When you’re doing your regular walk-throughs, it’s a good opportunity to “see if things wiggle.” Doorknobs, pulls, toilet paper holders, appliances, fixtures, etc. Make sure it’s all tightly affixed and there are no gaps.

Remembering that water is your biggest enemy, look for hissing toilets or signs of plumbing issues.

Plumbing

During a walk-through, flush all of the toilets. Feel the pipe and valve running to the toilet tank and see if you can feel moisture or drips. Run the sinks and open all of the below-sink cabinets. Feel the P-trap and be sure there’s no condensation or dripping water.

Look for any areas around the house where there is dripping water or leaks of any kind, staining, bubbling, or wrinkling of drywall.

Emergency Maintenance

Emergency maintenance is required with things that are above and beyond common breakdowns. When you own property for long periods of time, or own a lot of investment properties, you’ll have a small percentage of those that require emergency maintenance each year.

Water is, once again, the common culprit for this. Valves break, pipes split and issues can arise that require immediate assistance. The best piece of advice we can provide is to have a plumber you can call and rely on. Some people are water and fire experts. These people are certified and have special equipment to mitigate the damage from water. There are tools that enable them to look into the walls or use non-invasive procedures to detect and clean up water. Without using the right technicians, you could face liability issues from mold and leftover damage.

This is one of those areas in which a property manager can save investment property owners a lot of money. In one instance, Chris had a tenant in a townhome who called for emergency maintenance because of pooling water. It was discovered that the water was coming in from the adjacent townhome. After some investigation, they found that the townhome didn’t have insurance. The owner didn’t have insurance and the renter didn’t have insurance. There was over $20,000 of damage to deal with. Chris worked with the neighbor to secure a financing source to get a check from them to cover the damage. At the end of the day, this was a huge service that saved extensive costs for the property owner.

A property manager is the one who can follow these trails to find the right solutions for challenging situations.

Quick Tips From Bruce Powell With Water and Fire Damage

“If you’re leaving town for a couple for days or for vacation, turn your water off at the master valve. A couple years ago, we got a call. Homeowners had gone to Europe for 30 days. Shortly after they left, the water line to their heater broke and ran for 30 days. Basically, we had to redo the entire house after that had happened. It takes two seconds to pump that lever, generally found either in your garage or in the front wall of the basement. Again, it isn’t going to hurt anything. It will save you a lot of money and heartache in the long run.”

Remodeling

Remodels need to happen for many properties. These protect your investment in powerful ways. A lot of people buy rental properties knowing they will need some work. They spend a certain amount of money getting the home rent ready. Unexpected issues almost always arise during remodels.

The first step to remodeling an investment property is to set that realistic budget. You will encounter things and should leave some wiggle room in your budget.

The second step is to get reputable contractors. Going with the lowest-priced bid is almost never going to be the right choice. 

The third step is to set a timeline. Add contingencies into your budget and timeline. As unexpected issues arise, it will extend the amount of time needed to take care of them.

3 Expert Tips About Rental Property Remodels

  1. Remodels can be started during due diligence. This could save you some significant time on vacancy. 

  2. Don’t start remodels while tenants are occupying the property, especially if those tenants aren’t super neat or don’t keep the place in tip-top shape.

  3. Don’t show the property until the remodel is completed.

Routine inspections are important when it comes to planning ongoing improvements to your property. If you regularly walk the property, you’ll already know what’s in store for turnover.

Protect Your Investment

These practical tips are part of the regular job of a property manager. Many investment property owners realize it’s a big task to perform the right preventative maintenance to guard against major repairs or replacements. This is often the role of someone who professionally manages properties.

Even if you are very handy (or even if you are a property manager), there are some tasks that aren’t “DIY-friendly.” These include things like electrical work or HVAC work. Worst case scenario, your work can present a huge safety hazard to the people in the home. It’s not worth risking a subpar job. Hire for the preventative maintenance jobs that require professional knowledge.

Investment Property Geeks of Charlotte is here to provide expert insight and tips for property owners and property managers. Listen in anywhere you access podcasts: like, subscribe and share this episode and our show!