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“The customer is always right.” Chances are, you’ve heard (and perhaps even doled out) this bit of advice many times over your property management career. Obviously, there’s a lot to be said for applying this philosophy to your own business dealings. Particularly in an age of automated electronic service, there is so much to be said for making each of your clients feel as though they are special and well cared for. The bottom line is that, these days, good, attentive customer service is very much the exception rather than the rule. Which is great, great news for property managers who find themselves in one of the few high-touch industries where it’s still possible to actually provide one-on-one, memorable customer service.
That’s the good news.
More difficult is the fact that, though property management may be a high-touch industry that affords you the opportunity to make an impact on your clients, chances are when it comes to customers, you’re juggling a whole lot of them at once. Not only are you contending with the task of keeping the property owners that sign your checks happy but, in many ways, tenants are also your customers. Which means, depending upon your situation, you may have many, many customers to please. And sometimes, the best interests of your tenants and property owners simply don’t align. So what exactly are you supposed to do when situations like these arise? After all, you need to protect your property owner’s assets, but you will ultimately fail your property owner if you are unable to balance his best interests with those of his tenants, ultimately resulting in increased vacancy rates and a loss of rental income.
All of this is to say that, especially in property management, it’s often impossible for every customer to be right, if being right implies that each customer always gets exactly what she asks for. What this does not mean, however, is that every customer can’t be a happy one.
Let’s look at this in practice. Say you have a long-term tenant who is adamant that you cut down a tree outside of his window that’s blocking his view of the park across the street. You know that your property owner will not want the tree to come down because not only does it aesthetically enhance the property and lower energy costs by providing shade, but it would also cost thousands of dollars to pull up the tree. On the other hand, you also know that the property owner would be extremely displeased to lose a long-term, reliable tenant—not to mention the steady rental income that he represents.
In the end, you know that the tree must stay, but you must also find a way to keep your tenant happy and, most importantly, to keep him in your property owner’s unit. So while your tenant (your customer in this scenario) can’t necessarily get his way, you can still let him think that he’s right by executing the following strategy:
- Carefully listen to your tenant’s concerns and argument in a sympathetic manner.
- Let your tenant know which points you agree with him about (i.e., “You’re right. It’s a shame that beautiful view is obstructed.”)
- Explain in a straightforward manner why you are unable to resolve the tenant’s concern in the exact way he proposes.
- Offer to meet the tenant half-way (for example, propose that some of the trees branches are cut back in order to afford him a more clear view of the park across the street).
In the end, most customers will be more concerned with feeling their needs and concerns are being taken seriously and attended to than that their precise desired outcome is met. And in this business, that is the most crucial part of customer service: Ensuring that each customer feels he or she is right … even when they’re not.
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If you read the previous blog post and still aren’t convinced that to-do lists are your bag, here are some alternative means to achieving the five positive results to-do lists offer.
- Jog Your Memory: Keeping a calandar will also help you stay on top of specific deadlines and appointments.
- Manage Your Time: Stay on track by using an alarm wrist watch to remind you about key times during the day.
- Let You Know Where You Stand: Other tools are out there to measure where you stand at any given point of time. With clear S.M.A.R.T. goals you should be able to easily track your progress.
- Build Your Reputation Through Reporting: Lists provide great proof that you’re completing your job, but don’t forget about these other options for clear business reporting.
- Maximize Results for Minimal Expenditures: This is not ROI, we’re talking open reducing investments. PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) has a great article about reducing business costs.
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There are those of us that like making to-do lists, and those of us that don’t. It can be easy to chalk this up to a personal preference: Either you’re a list person or you’re not. But even if you don’t consider to-do lists to be your style, there are many reasons you should incorporate them into your work process.
We know, we know. With so much on your plate already, you simply don’t have the time or infrastructure to add one more task to your daily routine. But the beauty of to-do lists is, although they may represent another step in your workflow, they’re extremely easy to make and will save you tenfold when it comes to time and efficiency. And if you’re still not sold, here are five good reasons why you should consider using to-do lists on a daily basis.
1. Jog Your Memory
Property management is one of those fields where one day can differ drastically from the next. Also, because you’re dealing with a host of people including tenants, vendors, and property owners, you may well have dozens of small (but nonetheless important) tasks to do for a variety of people. No matter how professional and organized you are, it can be all too simple to let one of those tasks fall through the cracks. Writing down the phone calls you have to make and emails you need to reply to on a daily basis will go a long way toward guaranteeing you stay on the ball and keep all of your clients and tenants happy.
2. Manage Your Time
Nothing is more overwhelming than feeling like you have more tasks to do than there are hours in a day. When you complete tasks as they come to mind, they’re not necessarily being done in a logical order and, therefore, time is almost assuredly being wasted. If, for example, you know ahead of time that you have to return three phone calls and run across town to show a unit, you can plot out your day so that you are multi-tasking, making these calls while you make the cross-town drive. Without a to-do list, chances are you’ll complete tasks as they come to mind which can ultimately result in lost time.
3. Know Where You Stand
At the end of a long day, it can all too easily become a blur. You know that you worked hard all day but can hardly remember what happened that morning. Crossing items off of a to-do list will provide a black and white look at where you stand, what needs to be done, and what projects and tasks have been effectively resolved.
4. Build Your Reputation Through Reporting
One of the ways to-do lists can help better your business is by providing a clear means of demonstrating your efficacy to property owners. Again, it can be easy to forget exactly what you accomplished last week when you’re already looking ahead to what needs to be done next week. Task-tracking is the perfect way to keep track of what you’ve done, which can then be reported to bosses and higher-ups.
5. Maximum Results for Minimal Expenditure
When you think about it, if there was a product out there that offered you increased efficiency, productivity, and project tracking, you’d likely be willing to pay a significant amount of money for it. To-do lists are free and offer all of these results. Not only are they no-cost but even better, they require only the most minimum time expenditure on your part. All you have to do is build five minutes (or even less) into the beginning or end of your day to jot down all the tasks you have to accomplish and viola! You’re done. And if that sounds like too much, just keep a running tab of to-do items as they come up.
For more helpful information on creating effective to-do lists, be sure to check out the following links:
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Preventing wear and tear requires you be on top of things at all times. The following links will help you do just that.
- Keep a running list of the quick fixes that need to be resolved and stop by the closest Home Depot to take care of it all in one fell swoop. They should have plenty of options for all of your quick little fixes.
- Trying to figure out what can be taken out of your residents’ security deposit for fixes? Read this comprehensive list of damages to learn what items may constitute security deposit deductions.
- Want another checklist for wear and tear? Follow True Gotham’s Apartment Walk-Through Checklist to add to the list provided in our previous post.
- If you have little things that need to be fixed like a leaky toilet or a hole in the wall, find a qualified contractor to make the necessary repairs for you. Buildium makes it simple for customers to easily find the best contractors for the job through our partnership with ServiceMagic.
Wear and tear is a fact of life for every landlord. Since we’ve already spent some time on this blog looking at how to tell the difference between damage and wear and tear, let’s talk about the specifics of what to expect when it comes to basic apartment fix-it work and how to stay ahead of the maintenance game.
Generally speaking, the best time to take care of wear and tear on a unit is between tenants. And often, this goes beyond just doing a thorough clean and making sure that everything is spic n’ span for your next tenant. While it’s so obvious that this between-tenant downtime is the perfect opportunity to take care of any and all outstanding issues, all too often things are still neglected. Whether it’s because the window of time between tenants is so short or expenditures are already up for the month, it can be easy to let the little things fall to the wayside until next time. Our best advice? Don’t.
No matter how small a wear and tear item seems, no matter how loudly the voice inside your head tells you it’s okay to leave that tiny scratch on the hardwood floor until the next time you flip the apartment (“But it’s so small!”), don’t delay. As we’ve discussed so many times before on this blog, all too frequently little things become big things if they are left unattended. Also, the best way to ensure that your property maintains—or even better yet increases—it’s value is to constantly stay on top of everything.
A few things that will help you make sure those wear and tear fixes are taken care of immediately:
- Always keep frequently used supplies on hand: paint, plaster, floor polish, door knobs, latches, hinges, blinds, linoleum tiles, etc.
- Develop good relationships with contractors you trust so that they’re likely to come out and help you if need be … even if it’s at the last minute. Most vendors will go out of their way to keep their best customers happy.
- Insist on doing a walk-through of every vacated apartment yourself. Even if someone else is doing an official tenant walk-through at the end of a lease, you should still take the time to get an overview of the apartment and see what needs to be done with your own two eyes.
- Make a checklist of wear and tear items to go through during your own personal walk-through. This will help ensure that every unit is evaluated with the same standards and degree of thoroughness, even when time is of the essence. Think of it as your own personal system of checks and balances.
To help with your checklist, we like the tips provided from Rental Housing Online. Based on that, we suggest adding the following to your checklist every time a unit turns over.
Wear and Tear Checklist
- Check all door knobs and locks to make sure they aren’t loose and are working correctly.
- Open and close closet doors to ensure they are not off-track.
- Make sure hinges and handles on doors and cupboards are not loose.
- Check carpeting for dirt and other signs of wear.
- Check carpet seams to ensure they are not coming up at the edges.
- Make sure wood, tile, and linoleum floors are not scuffed, scratched, thinning, or loose.
- Check countertops for wear or scratches.
- Check ceiling for stains.
- Check walls for cracks.
- Make sure all wallpaper is securely applied.
- Check drapery rods, curtains, and blinds.
- Make sure all windows, latches, and screens are in good shape.
- Check faucet handles.
- Check toilet for leaks or running.
Finally, remember that although flipping units provides a great chance to go in and take care of wear and tear issues, you should always remain on top of general maintenance and housekeeping. Encourage tenants to let you know when little things need to be fixed or repaired (and thank them every time they do so). When you are asked to visit an occupied unit for any reason, keep an eye out for wear and tear issues that need to be resolved and ask your tenant for the access necessary to resolve them immediately. Finally, apply the five-minute rule. Whenever you see an issue anywhere on your property that can be fixed in five minutes or less, don’t delay. Fix it immediately. In the long run, you will save much more than five minutes’ worth of time and effort.
Renting to families with children can be difficult if you don’t have a plan on the ready at all times. Making units child-proof is imperative to keeping your entire residential community a happy one. Here are some helpful hints.
- Some states have specific laws about renting to families with kids. In Massachusetts, for example, property owners must de-lead units occupied by families who have children under the age of six.
- As we mentioned in our most recent blog post, discriminating against families with children is illegal.
- Stop the madness! Here are some ideas for dealing with destructive children.
- Do you have toddlers on your property? If so, you know what an adventurous bunch they are. To avoid liabilities, toddler-proof your property.
- If your community has a pool, making the area safe for children should be a priority. This series of eHow videos provides some tips for doing just this.
In previous blog posts we’ve discussed the pros and cons of renting to specific sectors, such as students and low-income tenants. Another category that requires specific consideration is tenants with children. First of all, be aware that in most states refusing to rent to families with children (based solely on the fact that they have children) is considered discrimination and is, therefore, illegal. It is also commonly illegal to reserve only certain units for families. So the question is not so much whether or not you decide to rent to families with children, but special considerations you should bear in mind when this situation arises.
When it comes to renting to families with kids, there are two main considerations to keep in mind to ensure the comfort of other tenants and the upkeep of your units: 1) noise and 2) unit maintenance/protection. Following are a few tips for ensuring you have both of these areas covered.
Kids will be kids. And sometimes being a kid involves a bit of noise. The bottom line, though, is that many tenants (particularly those who live directly under the pitter-pattering of little feet) may be annoyed by the extra noise that often comes with children. Luckily, there are some measures you can take to help minimize noise levels and keep all of your tenants happy and comfortable.
- Make sure that floors are carpeted (more on keeping carpets clean below). According to HGTV.com, “The best covering for the floor is wood with an area rug over it. In this manner the wood floor gently absorbs the sound, while the rug swallows excess noise.”
- Install soundproofing wall insulation. CertainTeed.com offers products that work well for this purpose.
- Although it is somewhat intensive, if you rent to families frequently, you may want to consider using Green Glue, which creates a gap between your existing drywall ceiling and a new layer of drywall. According to a Today feature, this can reduce noise by up to 20 percent by blocking sound vibrations. For more information, visit SoundIsolationCompany.com.
- Finally, remember that soundproofing walls and ceilings without securing windows is a moot effort. Obviously, your tenants’ windows will be open at certain times of the year, but make sure that they are sealed to prevent noise from leaking out when they are closed. According to Repair-Home.com, double-paned windows and an acrylic frame can go a long way toward preventing sound-leakage. Double-paned windows reduce noise by up to 20 percent, while acrylic frames reduce noise by up to 50 percent.
While carpeting will help prevent some of the noise associated with children and families, it can also be easily damaged by spills. When installing carpeting, make the extra effort to secure it with fabric-protectant spray, such as Scotchgard™ Protector for Carpet. Such products can be applied on either a DIY basis or be professionally applied by a carpet cleaner.
If you opt not to take the carpet route, you can add a bit more protection to hardwood floors by applying a stain. Hardwood stains protect from scratches, dust, and grime, are long-lasting, and can be applied to the hardwood surface with a paintbrush.
In addition to flooring, walls are another area often subjected to stains and spills at the hands of little ones. Protect paint jobs with a product like AGS Wall Guard. This clear coating can be applied as a “top coat” to paint and will resist scuff marks and stains, and is easily cleaned, thus ensuring your paint will stand up to the test of little hands.
While all of this may sound like a lot of work to ensure that your units are kid-friendly, bear in mind that tenants of all shapes and sizes can make noise and messes. Consider these measures not only way to prepare for families with children, but also a means of ensuring that all of your tenants live in a comfortable, peaceful environment that is as damage-proof as possible.