Property management can sometimes be daunting, here are 10 tips to manage your property for the local Rexburg and East Idaho area.
By Lindsey Schober
Whether you DIY, hire a professional or do some combination of the two, managing the maintenance of your rental property is a big part of being a landlord. And, as a landlord, you are responsible for keeping your rental property up to code and in great shape for your tenants.
Here are 10 tips for staying on top of your rental property maintenance
1. Establish clear responsibilities
A solid maintenance plan starts with your lease. Clearly outline responsibilities for you and your tenant before move-in. Typically, your renter is responsible for minor maintenance and regular upkeep, such as changing lightbulbs or trash removal. Landlords are responsible for larger projects and issues such as plumbing, heating and electrical. You are also responsible for taking care of regular wear and tear and prepping the property for new tenants. Make sure to establish emergency procedures so your renters know how to reach you and understand the time frame in which they can expect a reply. Be sure to keep them updated about your progress, even if it’s just to say, “I’m working on it and will tell you more as soon as I know more.” Open and productive lines of communications go a long way with renters and encourage them to keep you informed of any issues that may arise — before they turn into big problems. Good communication can also help diffuse a heated exchange. Bonus tip: Before your tenant moves in, stock your rental with some extra light bulbs and air filters. They don’t cost much, and it shows your tenants that you’re invested in their tenancy — which in turn may increase their motivation to take good care of your home and rent your property long-term.
2. Set a baseline for the condition of your property
Before a new tenant moves in to your rental, document the condition of everything. Take photos or video and use a move-in/move-out checklist so you don’t accidentally miss something. This will help prevent disputes over damages, and it provides proof if you need to withhold the security deposit should the amount of damage exceed normal wear and tear. Wear and tear is expected and is a cost of doing business as a landlord. Things like scratches on the floor, dings on the walls, a broken drawer or an appliance on the fritz come with use over time. However, something like a hole in the wall, a broken window or damage due to pets is more than normal wear and tear and should be deducted from the security deposit. Be sure your tenant knows the condition you expect the property to be in when they move out, and give them plenty of notice (and maybe a well-timed, gentle reminder).
3. Set up (and stick to) a preventative maintenance schedule
You know that quote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? It applies to rental property maintenance too. By adhering to a preventative maintenance schedule, you can catch minor issues before they turn into costly problems for you and your tenants. Build a clause into your lease that requires your tenant to alert you to any issues in a timely manner or face a fee, but also make sure to walk the property every few months to review the appliances, cabinetry, faucets, toilets, shower tiles, basement, roof, windows and every other area of your home. You can rotate what you check seasonally, such as inspecting the gutters in spring or making sure your windows and doors are weatherized ahead of winter, but you’ll still want to look at the whole property throughout the year (not just when it’s time to get a new tenant).
Bonus tip: Everything in your rental has a lifespan. Planning for this can help you budget and get ahead of a major property or appliance disaster. If you know your refrigerator is nearing the end of its life, you can plan ahead and purchase a new one when you see a great sale. This way you save money and are ready before your appliance dies. Upgrading fixtures and appliances not only helps you keep on top of maintenance, but also enables you to charge more in rent and keep your property full.
4. Keep landscaping as simple as possible
Even if your tenants say they love to garden, don’t make any changes (and add more work to your plate) if you don’t have to. Keep landscaping at your rental property as low-maintenance as possible to ensure it looks good all year round. This way you won’t need to remind your renter to take care of the lawn or, worse, have to spend time taking care of it yourself. Using native plants can cut down on yard work. So does adding mulch or a patio. While it costs more upfront, you’ll save time and money in the long run. Your green-thumbed tenant can purchase a planter box.
5. Standardize your property(ies)
Whether you have one property or 10, using the same paint, flooring, appliances and hardware can save you time, money and headaches trying to remember which unit has which. Use the same color paint on the ceiling and walls. It makes repainting after a tenant leaves that much easier.
Bonus tip: Some landlords let tenants personalize their properties with interior paint. Whether that is one accent wall or the entire house is up to you. This can help your tenant feel at home, and you can charge a fair fee for repainting the unit, even if you would have done it anyway as part of your maintenance responsibility.
6. Keep all receipts and document all repairs
Landlording is a business, so certain maintenance projects and repairs may be tax-deductible business expenses. Make sure to keep all of your receipts and document the time you spent on repairs. Don’t assume, however, that your maintenance job will be a write-off, and work closely with a tax professional to ensure you are compliant with the law.
7. Make it feel like new every time
Before you rent out your property, think about the home you would want to live in. Every new tenant deserves a deeply cleaned, freshly painted rental. Providing a move-in ready property will help you establish yourself as a high-quality landlord. If there is carpet, have it professionally cleaned and sanitized, especially if you allow pets at your rental. Also, consider removing the carpet altogether and replacing it with a durable floor. It will make cleaning your rental easier the next time someone new moves in. And don’t forget to change the locks. Kwikset smart keys allow you do this yourself.
8. Automate where and when you can
You may have the best tenant ever, but even the best of us forget to replace the batteries in our smoke alarms (after we remove them to get rid of that annoying beeping) or turn on the exhaust fan during a shower. Take some of the risk out of your rental property and invest in fixtures that have long battery lives, are tamper resistant or automatically turn on. Consider motion lights on the outside of your house, a programmable, lockable thermostat, a bathroom fan that automatically turns on with the lights to prevent mold, or invest in small solar lights to help light up a pathway. Some of these things may cost more at purchase, but it’s your responsibility to keep your tenants and your property safe and hazard-free.
9. Know when to call a professional
You can be as hands on (or hands off) of a landlord as you want. You just need to know when to call in a professional. At a minimum, know the location of your rental’s electrical panel and gas and water shut-offs so you’re ready for an emergency. Some states require that certain work such as HVAC, plumbing or electrical be completed by a licensed professional. Check with your local building authority to ensure you stay on the right side of their guidelines.
10. Have a rainy day fund
Life happens, even to the most prepared and meticulous landlord. Something will break. There will be a leak, a flood, a fire… something. Be sure to set up a rainy day fund for maintenance and repairs. You may need to replace a large appliance or a water heater. Your tenant can’t wait a week for you to transfer funds or figure out the best deal. Or, in more serious cases, you may need to find your tenant temporary housing or fix your property before an insurance claim has gone through so no further damage is done. Make sure your business is ready for the unexpected. Your tenant will remember (and tell their friends) how quickly you handled an emergency repair.
While rental property maintenance can take up a lot of your time, it will ultimately pay dividends for your business if you prepare in advance and have a plan.