COMMUNICATION PLAN?- Why every Landlord needs a communication plan for maintenance
In a nutshell a communication plan means you have predetermined control over when and how you are involved in the management of your property.
When it comes to investment properties, the quality of the property will often determine the quality of the tenant. While there are many advantages to carrying out regular and preventive maintenance, this article is about understanding that not all investors want to be serviced the same way and also some of the benefits in having a communication plan with your agent so you have the optimal amount of control over your investment based on your situation.
While most agencies will have their own version of best practice with dealing with maintenance, there are a few key things to know. Before we move on it's a good idea to review where you think you fit in the hands on hands off mix
So which type of investor are you?
Firstly, from a maintenance point of view, what type of investor are you? Are you hands on or hands off? Or are you somewhere in between? There is really no right or wrong answer to this question but if you are hands off, I give a word of caution; If you choose to give this level of trust to an agent, make sure that you understand the process they will be following in the absence of contacting you for your directions.
Investor #1 HANDS OFF - Contact me only if something big has happened (if at all)
Investor #2 HANDS ON - Contact me about everything
Investor #3 SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN - Don't contact me about everything, but I don't want to write a blank cheque either
All three of these preferences are quite normal but if you’re unsure about which investor profile suits you, the easiest question to ask yourself would be; how much money would l be okay with my property manager spending on my behalf before contacting me for instruction? (There are more follow up questions to this a little later in the piece).
Do all agencies cater for all of these Landlord preferences to maintenance?
All agencies have their version of best practice when dealing with maintenance issues. So the short answer is yes and no. But let me explain. All agencies have the choice to negotiate how they choose to deal with landlords and they can choose to agree to a customised solution or not. The real question is, if they agree to a customised solution are their processes supportive of this? Unless an agency’s standard practice is to make a customisable set of instructions, having a process that does not match your preferences will lead to frustration further down the track for both parties involved. The next best option, if you don't have the option of a fully customised communication plan is to thoroughly understand how a prospective property manager or agency deals with maintenance for the bulk of their rentals to confirm that their processes involve the amount of communication that you are comfortable with.
But what is the difference between a maintenance plan and a communication plan?
The best maintenance plan is how the agency will deal with maintenance, a communication plan is how an agency will deal with you . Any communication plan is about when and how the lines of communication take place in your partnership with your property manager. While an individual property manager can be amazing in understanding your preferences with time, a great communication plan will make you feel like all the people at agency XYZ understand your preferences from day one. This helps to protect your experience if someone leaves, goes on maternity or paternity leave, changes roles or is injured etc. Both the maintenance processes and the communication piece are equally important to ensure everything runs smoothly and there are no surprises.
- A communication plan works in partnership with a maintenance plan
- A communication plan determines when and how you are involved with your property issues.
- A communication plan helps provide consistency of experience when dealing with bigger agencies
What Makes A Good Maintenance Plan?
The best maintenance plans can be followed by whoever answers the phone to your tenant or sights the issue. I personally believe consistency is key, a good maintenance plan is structured into the agencies business so that every member of their team deals with maintenance in the same way. The next step is allowing for Landlords not answering phones or checking their emails as a part of that plan. If this has been planned for things are less likely to slip between the cracks. As a Landlord, you want your property to be well maintained but you are human and have many things competing for your attention at times. So while I am positive you would answer my calls if from time to time you forget to return a call or reply to an email there are steps in place. Your property manager is paid to follow these things up and this part of life & business should be considered in how they tackle maintenance.
- All of the people dealing with maintenance for your property see your preferences as part of their process
- The communication is able to be consistent in its results i.e if your property manager is absent the same outcome is achieved
- Follow up should be built into the process
What should I ask about when understanding how maintenance is handled?(and some of the typical responses)
1# How does the agency communicate with owners normally?
- Phone Call
- Text Message
- Owners Portal
2# When will the agency contact Landlords about maintenance required?
- All the time
- Only if the maintenance is likely to cost over a predetermined and agreed to amount
3# Are Landlords charged by the agency to organise maintenance?
- Only if you use their trades people
4# Can landlords carry out their own repairs or use their own preferred trades people?
5# How does the agency handle invoices for bigger maintenance jobs?
- Negotiate with trades people to pay invoices as rental funds are available
- Require a maintenance fund to be held in trust to allow for possible issues at a predetermined and agreed amount
- Work will not be carried out if sufficient funds are not expected within a reasonable time frame and will require payment in advance by the landlord
6# How does your agency troubleshoot or ensure that Landlords are not paying for tenant misuse?
- The tradesperson checks for misuse
- The agency collects evidence
- The agency troubleshoots with tenants prior to work being carried out
- The tenant is provided a troubleshooting document at the commencement of the lease
- The tenants are provided manuals
7# How long should I expect maintenance to be completed ?
Answers in this area will vary but you should expect at least one or two easy to follow examples with how time frames are calculated and details of what the tenant should expect as a baseline level of customer service.
8# How does your agency follow up with Landlords and unresponsive Tenants ?
- Additional communications (see question #1 in this section)
- Will act only in the event of emergency maintenance (Landlords)
- Will issue notice to carry out maintenance with tenant and provide tradespeople access.
- Non-renewal of agreement or termination of agreement if party is actively avoiding responsibilities after failed mediation (Tenant or Landlord)
9# How does your agency ensure competitive workmanship and prices for work carried out ?
- Processes that lead to better outcomes
- Preferable discounts due to agency volume of work through trades people
- 2-3 Trades people in each trade to split work going to each industry to monitor price creep
- Multiple quotes on each maintenance request
How one particular agency can deal with maintenance can be vastly different to others in the local area. Maintenance management is one of the biggest parts of your investment success, right alongside property selection and tenant selection. The terms of what is agreed to along with how an agency implements their plan will determine the result for you.
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Final Thoughts ?
Maintenance is one of the big four areas that you should discuss with any prospective agency (Transparency, Maintenance, Tenant Selection & Management and Fees) so time spent understanding your prospective agency in this area is time well spent
Written By Ricky Flynn, Resources by Victoria Gale
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