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Are you keeping track of the condition of your rental properties?

Feb 26 2017

 

There are four basic kinds of rental property inspections that a property manager or investor should perform regularly: move-in, move-out, drive-by, and in-home. If you’re not doing all four (or having them done by someone you trust), you’re putting yourself into a large amount of unnecessary risk. Here’s why:

Move-In Inspections


When a tenant moves into a property, it’s important that the two of you create a list of every issue with the space that could, potentially, cause you to withhold any part of their security deposit when they move out. This is for their benefit, so that they aren’t held accountable for something that wasn’t their fault, but it’s also for your benefit, so that you have proof when they move out that any deductions you do make from their deposit are legitimate.|

You want this inspection to be performed by the tenant, so they feel satisfied that they are being as thorough as they want to be — but at the same time, you need to be present as well. That’s because you need to make a complete record of every issue they find, including written notes, pictures taken of each item, and even a final video walk-through at the end that visits each issue, showing the context of each problem. For example, you might not be able to tell after seven years that a particular picture of a crack in the drywall was taken in the front bedroom as opposed to the kitchen — so having a video (with the tenant in it!) to refer back to can be a godsend. Be certain to have the tenant sign off on all of their notes at the end so you have evidence that they approved the list of acknowledged issues.

Move-Out Inspections


The logical counterpoint to a move-in inspection; a move-out inspection is essentially exactly the same process, except you are performing the inspection. Once you’ve gotten a thorough record of all issues worthy of withholding a portion of their security deposit — again, written, pictorial, and if possible on video — you can subtract the move-in list from the move-out list to get a clear understanding of precisely what you should be withholding for.

This is critically important because it only takes one angry tenant plus one judge having a bad day to end up stuck paying not just for all of the repairs to a damaged home, but possibly up to triple the amount you tried to withhold in damages. Having rock-solid proof of exactly why you’re being perfectly reasonable is the best way to make sure you don’t get stuck footing a huge bill you can’t afford.

Drive-By Inspections


Simply put, someone should drive by every property you manage once a month. The amount you can glean just from a careful visual inspection of the outside of a home is enormous. Are there signs of a pet in a pet-free property? Is there enough clutter or waste outside that it’s becoming a liability or a pest attractor? Are the windows broken, the garage door left open when the tenant isn’t home, or the grounds ill-maintained? All of these are grounds for a written notification as well as the immediate scheduling of an in-depth inspection.

In-Depth Inspections


Hopefully once a year, you need to get eyes on the inside of every property, in detail. The process should be very much like a move-out inspection, with you taking notes, pictures, and video detailing everything that you would charge the tenant for if they were to move out as well as everything that you would have to fix at your own cost before a new tenant moved in. Then, you can sit and talk to the tenant about how they want to address those issues. If a faucet is leaky, when can you pay to get a plumber in and have it looked at? If they’ve pulled a bedroom door hinge out of the wall, can they fix it themselves (effectively and without making it ugly) or do they want to pay you to schedule your handyman to fix it?

An in-depth inspection is your tool for keeping on top of a property’s maintenance and repair needs. If you let any property go too long without being properly cared for, the cost of bringing it back to baseline starts to grow exponentially. It’s far cheaper in the long run to spend the time inspecting and performing basic maintenance than it is to learn two years later than the tenant has let a pipe leak for eighteen months and now you have to replace the entire bathroom vanity, floor, subfloor, joists, and that one pipe.

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If you’ve ever considered investing in a few rental properties in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA now might be a good time. Prices are still low in Philadelphia, but have been on the upswing. According to the National Association of Realtors, the median price of an existing home in a US metropolitan area grew 13.7% between July 2012 and July 2013, the latest in a 17-month streak of year-over-year price increases. 

New landlords can choose from properties that are likely to appreciate and a large pool of potential renters.Licensed realtor Pat Mueller cites a few reasons for this trend: “Many families have lost their homes to foreclosure and are entering the rentals market for the first time in years. Mortgages are also harder to get now, so fewer people are qualifying for a new one.”The more skills you bring to the table to get into Houses for Rent in Philadelphia Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA and the more time you have to devote to your properties, the faster you can make a return on your investment. 

But investing in rentals can also be disastrous (or too stressful to be worthwhile) without expertise. Here are three professionals you may consult about your new rental properties, and what you can do to mitigate how much they cost you:Handyman:  You may need to hire a specialist for some work on your rental. If you need new outlets or new pipes, for example, hire an electrician, plumber or licensed contractor. Handymen usually tackle smaller, more manageable tasks, like:

  • Painting and paint removal
  • Drywall repair
  • Minor appliance repairs (fixing a leaky toilet or faucet, among others)
  • Installing tiling or flooring, moldings, windows, doors
  • Refinishing decks, cabinets and other wood items

When You Could Skip It: You could do any (or all) of these projects yourself if you have the time and interest in learning. Of course, this only works if you live relatively close to your rentals and are flexible enough to service them on short notice. And if you’re willing to respond to the occasional 5 AM basement flooding.

Average Savings: Any base rates or costs-per-hour vary from location to location in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA , but nationally, you can expect to spend an average of $60 to $85 per hour for repair costs. It general costs less to hire an individual handyman than a handyman employed by a company. Expect an additional charge if your job requires a trip to the store for materials.

Resident Property Manager As the owner of a handful of rental properties, you may be able to manage them yourself, but if you want help, a single resident manager would probably be more cost efficient than a property management company. Resident managers may:

  • Serve as a handyman
  • Advertise vacancies in your units
  • Show apartments to prospective tenants
  • Review rental applications
  • Collect rents

When You Could Skip It: Again, the closer you live to your properties and the more spare time you have, the less likely you are to need a manager. The obligations of being a boss will also cut into the time you save on maintenance.

Average Savings: The national median wage for residential managers is just over $25 per hour. Research the wages in your community and adjust according to how much responsibility your manager will take on. 

Real Estate Agent: Once you’ve gotten your financials in order and done your own research on the neighborhood(s) you’re considering, you might contact a realtor to show you potential properties. You can also arrange for a realtor in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA to show rentals once they’re ready to rent.

When You Could Skip It: It depends. Even if you’re a local, or have thoroughly researched the neighborhood(s) you’re considering, a realtor is a great resource for a first-time rental buyer. Realtors have access to data and statistics not necessarily available to the general public and first-time buyers may not know all the right questions to ask. Using a realtor to fill your Houses for Rent vacancies is less of a no-brainer, depending on your other time commitments or whether you plan to hire a resident manager who could do the same thing.

Average Savings: As a buyer of rental properties, as when buying your own home, sellers typically pay most, if not all, of the buyer’s realtor fees. In this case, Mueller points out there’s little reason not to work with a realtor. For help in filling your units in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA, the services of a realtor would set you back between 10-20% of the unit’s rent per month.  Mueller recommends interviewing with several brokers before making your final decision to invest into Houses for Rent .

The Bottom Line: As a new landlord, you can’t necessarily control the flexibility of your schedule or the amount (and cost) of unexpected repairs to your properties. Rentals are a long-term investment. However, to maximize profits from your Houses for Rent, new rentals, you can buy close to home and start small. It is best to begin with just one or two properties. This will allow you to maximize the time you spend on your properties’ needs, and minimize the amount you’ll have to pay anyone else.

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