By: Wojciech Kic
The necessary ingredient of successful long-term ownership of a rental property is the property owner’s ability to address the maintenance needs of the property on an ongoing basis.
A rental house consists of thousands of parts, which are exposed to the natural 24/7 process of aging as well as the wear and tear by its occupants. Some parts of the house wear out faster than others. Carpet, for example, may wear out in as little as four years. The roof, on the other hand, may last 25 years.
Usually, the owner of a rental property does not have the ability to personally perform the necessary maintenance and repairs.Whether due to the time limitations of a day job or lack of expertise, a landlord is forced to rely on others for repairs. Finding a regular, trusted source to provide repairs is in itself a time consuming process. A handyman who is available on short notice, who provides quality service and who prices competitively is difficult to find.
Other fellow landlords are no help as the risk of referring a trusted handyman may result in a loss of dependable service when they need the next one. And the very high demand for handyman type jobs halts the advertising effort that would make it easy to find them.
Thus, once a handyman is found, the landlord quickly develops an exclusive dependence on the handyman for a well-functioning rental property, and what goes with it, its continued rentability.The handyman in turn establishes a relationship with the tenants, and, in a time saving fashion, begins to respond to direct calls from the tenants about the necessary maintenance.The avoidance of frustration in dealing directly with the tenants earns the handyman the landlord’s esteem and confidence.
With acquired knowledge of the property, and personal contact with the tenant, the handyman naturally becomes the chief advocate for the property.The handyman’s advocacy is welcomed because it provides the landlord with a sense of direction as well as the comfor t of solutions, seemingly, just when needed. The landlord also avoids the discomfort of personally identifying maintenance problems that he may not have enough time for or the desire to know much about. On the other hand, the handyman’s timely observation of missing roof shingles prevents a future roof leak. And a close-up observation of rotten wood siding exposes active termites.
The handyman’s advocacy creates an oppor tunity in the tenants’ eyes. After all, unlike the landlord, the handyman does not dispute the tenant’s reports about necessary maintenance, and does not question the obvious needs for property improvements.
The handyman clearly sees it. Another rental property he works at does look better. New kitchen countertops, tile floors, and brass light fixtures makes the work environment in that property a delight.The tenants there are happy and content.They drive better cars.
They sip coffee and endearingly express concern for the handyman’s hard work, without a worry about the condition of the property.Why would any landlord treat his tenants so differently?
The handyman’s (read: tenants) recommendations to the landlord find a friendly ear. The property is not new, it has obvious deferred maintenance, and it could stand some improvements. And besides, from the landlord’s perspective, the handy man’s relationship with the tenants makes him uniquely privy to what they need, delivery
of which guarantees an outcome that the handyman implicitly guarantees. Why tinker with the old stove? Deliver a new one and keep the tenant happy.They may even stay another year. How about updating the kitchen? Not yet? Well, then at least keep the rent the same.
What a handyman overlooks is that in an abundant and competitive market the tenants are less concerned about property repairs and improvements.The quality and frequency of the upkeep on the property is not in their interest.The tenant is more concerned about the freedom to move, and doing it with out the constrictions of the lease agreement. If intending to stay long term, for the tenant, keeping rent leveled is the primary motivation.Thus subtle maintenance suggestions to the handy man never end; the landlord’s inability to keep up is exposed.The tenant’s control of the lease is now secured.
Despite the loss, landlords loathe to reject the handyman’s advocacy for the property.
Finding another handyman is perceived as more costly, and doing without will lead to resumed contact with the tenant that the landlord no longer knows how to control.
Initially, the concern for losing the source of maintenance services prevents the confrontation with the handyman that the landlord does not believe that he can win.
The landlord is right. Causing the handyman to change his conduct when interacting with the tenant would require an acknowledgement of lost influence. It is an indignity that no handyman is willing to tolerate. But to reassert control of the lease the landlord must first develop the ability to say NO in the landlording game; without it the cycle continues.
In a competitive market, tenants expect market condition of a property for the going market rent. Evaluating the need and the timing for property improvements is the landlord’s ongoing responsibility. Accommodating the handyman is ver y costly; the long-term outcome are property improvements that fail to meet market expectations.
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